Saturday, December 25, 2010

3rd Christmas in Antarctica!

Merry Christmas from WAIS Divide, Antarctica.............again.

Yep. 3rd year in a row where I've exchanged gifts thousands of miles from civilization. This year's was the best WAIS Christmas yet. With only 37 people at camp, it was a very nice celebration. I got a nice new hand-knit wool hat in the gift exchange. The chefs here again shocked-and-awed us with the dinner. We have three new and very different cooks this year and they floored us last night with the meal. We were treated to Lobster, Fillet Mignon, Cheese Fondue, Flourless chocolate-raspberry tart cake, Red wine, good laughs, and good people. We even had a TV playing a looping DVD of a fireplace at the end of the table. It was fantastic. With that said however, I couldn't help but let my mind wander back home. This year was certainly one of the hardest to be away for the Holidays. We make the best of the situations we are put in

So enjoy the holidays everyone, be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan....or as some of us call it Rama-Hanu-Kwanz-Mas :-D
Tell your parents you love them, hug a friend, help someone with their groceries, be thankful for all that you've been given, and keep on enjoying the most precious gift of all....this wonderful life you've been given.

I am thankful for so many wonderful things I've been able to do this year and most importantly, for all the wonderful people in my life., time to go drill some ice cores! Yay for Science!

Friday, December 17, 2010

That's a nice piece of ash

...and we're in production mode here at WAIS Divide. Today was our first full day of drilling, and it went really well. On our first core up, we discovered this beauty. A 1cm thick, dark ash layer. At this depth, that 1cm would have been almost 4cm at the surface....that's a lot of ash. We're talking one heck of an eruption nearby. Not sure which Volcano just yet, but I surmise either Mt. Takahe, Mt. Berlin, or another from West Antarctica.

Tomorrow we have our 2nd annual Sea-level beach party, should be fun. Otherwise, not much new to report. another science group rolled in to town today that is doing a traverse around West Antarctica to drill small cores and dig snow pits.

pushing ahead...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snowblowing at WAIS

Hi again from WAIS Divide, Antarctica. Not much new to report on the science front other than drilling may start today! The drillers and Ice Core Lab reps just have a few software patches to install, and we can begin.

On the side, I completely finished sampling the snowpit and have entered all the data. This is a nice weight off my back as it is always stressful hoping bad weather doesn't drift in the pits. Now it can drift in all it wants.

The heavy machine operators cleared out the tertiary door for the drilling arch using the pisten-bully with the giant snowblower attachment (Zogg?). It's really amazing to watch it go. The snow it shoots out looks all fluffy and light, but it really is fully of icy, dense chunks. You wouldn't want to be under it...that's for sure.

That's it for now.

Loving life...but missing home


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snowpitting in West Antarctica

Yet again I find myself digging away. This year's 2-meter snow pit was dug in a single day thanks to the help of some fellow science techs and grad students. I've already taken density and isotope samples and will be doing some demethyl pthalate sampling tomorrow.

We've packed up the last of the ice cores form last year and they will be shipping out on tomorrow's flight. Things are going pretty well overall, and the drillers are really close to starting some test runs. NSF reps will be arriving at camp tomorrow to evaluate the site and the project....we are all on our best behavior.

Earlier today the folks on the Pine Island Glacier traverse rolled through town in 3 Challengers and a Tucker. It was quite the motorcade.

We finally got workable internet here, so I was able to check my gmail account (albeit very very slowly).

Today is Sunday at camp, so we all are taking the day off. I've been organizing PCT photos and writing lots of postcards and letters.

That's about it...

...moving ahead...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Beautiful Blue Day in West Antarctica

The beautiful wide open West Antarctic Ice Sheet. We're here and we are prepping to drill some ice core. The past week has been all about clean up. This past winter was not kind to the camp and a lot of heavy drifting buried everything. So...over the last 6 days, we've spent cleaning the ice core arch and prepping last year's ice (that we stored in the basement) for shipment. Today, 256 meters of core were sent out on an LC-130 herc cold-deck flight. It's a good feeling knowing that another batch of very important scientific data have begun their journey back to the laboratories in the States.

Anyhoo, we are looking to start drilling in about 5 days! Looking forward to the start of what is supposed to our final season. Still can't believe i've been here three years in a row now. Almost feels like a second home.

There will be a polar-trec satellite phone media event live from our camp that I will be a part of on Dec 16th. I will have more details soon but anyone call go online to view the slideshow and phone in to our number to hear us live. The plan is for us to talk about camp life in Antarctica and to give a primer on ice-core science.

shoot me an email if you're bored too and let me know if you want a postcard from Antarctica!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

WAIS Divide, Antarctica - Take 3

Welcome again to the great flat white! After 12 days slumming around McMurdo, we finally got a flight out to WAIS Divide. It's a good thing too, as weather has turned quite foul in Mactown.

I again have very limited email access at camp, but no real internet this year (it's supposedly there, but doesn't really work). Luckily, I can still send small emails to my blogger/flickr account (like I did on the PCT) and have them posted here! Unfortunately, the pics have to be limited to 50k or they will be low-res for sure. Which reminds me, for family and friends that have asked...It does get rather lonely out here in the middle of nowhere, so feel free to send emails my way if you feel like it (or if you want a postcard - let me know). My temporary WAIS account (limited to 50k size emails incoming too) is:

We have been cleaning, preparing and training for what should be our final season down here. Ice-coring should begin in about a week. This year I will not be taking physical properties samples in the field, but will be working as a science tech and core handler. I am also digging a snow pit, taking density and water isotope samples, taking permeability samples, drilling a small 4 meter firn core, and measuring insolation (long and shortwave). I hope to do a surface energy balance study at some point down the line.

Well....wish us luck on a successful season!

(pic is of tent city - where we sleep. My tent is the yellow one :-)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2010 - The year of Graduation, Great PCT walking, Grueling Candidacy, Glaciology Papers, and Going South.....again

Well, here I sit the precipice.  Looking out over the wide expanse.  I'm looking ahead to another year, yet looking back on another year gone by.  I have kept personal thoughts and experiences mostly off of this blog for the past 6 months, limiting entries to those PCT-related (with a few exceptions).  Since 2008, my year-end review blogs have become somewhat of a tradition for me though, so I decided once again to make this quick post.  I realize it's a bit early for a year-end blog entry, but my internet access will be very limited this year at WAIS Divide, and I wanted to post this before I left McMurdo Station.

2010 - Another one for the books.  Another year filled with incredible ups and downs, and one I can file away with smile.  I set many goals for myself this year, many quite lofty.  I sit here now at the close, with a calming sense of contentment knowing what I was able to accomplish.  I will have memories from this year that I will undoubtedly carry forever.  Memories defined by me....and memories that will define me.

I gave this posting the title that I did (lovely alliteration and all), because of the 5 milestones that most highlight and/or punctuate 2010 for me:
  • Graduation from Penn State with a Masters Degree
  • A Successful 2663 mile Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hike
  • A Successful PhD Candidacy Exam
  • Submission of My First Manuscript
  • Another Year in Antarctica (Beginning and End of the year)
2010 began just as 2009 did.  A lovely New Year's celebration at WAIS Divide camp in West Antarctica.  We were half-way through another successful drilling season.  Our goal depth - 2600 meters.  Overall it was another great season for everyone.  I was able to cut and mount all of my physical properties samples and assist the core-handling crew.  With that said, something was a little off for me.  I've alluded to this in previous posts, but the short story is that I as my 2nd Antarctic season was coming to a close, I had become rather despondent.  A sort of "blah"-melancholy.  It's very hard to explain in words, and I still have not figured out what brought this change in demeanor on, but I knew at the time that I needed another head cleaning session... (more on that later)

New Years Day 2010

WAIS Divide Camp - 2009-2010

Me and Charlie Bentley in the WAIS Divide Drilling Arch

On my way back form the ice, I again spent a little time barnstorming around the mountains and bucolic pastures of New Zealand.  I did another tour of the Southern Island, hiking a bit at Arthur's Pass, visiting glaciers, zipping through the kepler track again, and general overall sight-seeing.  It was nice...but in truth, I rushed through it.  I really just wanted to get back home.....home to friends, family, and people I was missing.
Kepler Track

Steepest Street in the World - NZ

Moeraki Calcite Boulders - NZ

When I got back to Pennsylvania, I plugged away trying finish up my Masters Thesis edits and get it into a form that was not only acceptable to the Grad School, but that I could submit to a Journal.  I handed in everything and starting making plans for a PCT hike.

On April 22nd, I headed out to San Diego to start what would be my most epic journey yet.  I stayed that first night in town, walking around a small neighborhood near Scout and Frodo's house trying to take-in just what I was about to begin.  I remember looking up at the star-lit sky through the palm trees and immediately feeling that I was where I was supposed to be.

And then the journey began.  For 4 months, I plodded, sloshed, trekked, glissaded, forded, and swam my way along the 2663 miles of the PCT.  I dealt with incredible amounts of snow, long mile days, and hordes of mosquitos.  The rewards were completely worth it though.  Breathtaking vistas, sunsets, and mountain peaks....the likes of which I have never experienced before (except for maybe briefly in Colorado).

While sitting at a random hostel along the trail on May 16th, 3000 miles away my name was being read aloud during the 2010 Penn State Commencement ceremonies.  I had received my Masters Degree.  Whatever happens in the years to come, and whichever direction my career takes me, this can never be taken away from me.  I was very proud of this accomplishment and celebrated around a nice campfire with hiking friends.
Shiny new Masters Degree

Just over three months, 2000 miles,  and thousands of memories later, I was standing in Canada a completed PCT thru-hiker...and ready to head home, healed.  I blogged during the entire hike and each day is up on here.....Here are the capstone final blogs though:

Day 123: The END!
PCT: Final Journey Home
Newspaper and PCT Updates
PCT - Closing the Chapter
PCT Epilogue
Mexican Border

Mt. Whitney Climb

Crater Lake

Canadian Border - The End

The celebration didn't last long once I got home.  I was in full school mode rather quickly.  Throughout the month of September I fine-tuned my masters manuscript.....over and over again.  I passed it around between co-authors for weeks until it was finally ready to submit.  It was very important to me to have this paper submitted before heading to the ice again.  This would leave me worry-free.  Hitting that submit button was a huge relief and another accomplishment in my book.  This will be my first of hopefully many papers to come.

My first scientific paper is "in peer review" in J. of Glaciology
"Late-Holocene climate evolution at the WAIS Divide site, 
West Antarctica: bubble number-density estimates"

And then.....the stress came.  Candidacy.  One simple word that can cause so much angst.  So much turmoil.  I spent an entire month struggling with preparation for this dreaded exam.  I wrote two proposals...which turned out to be rather mediocre at best.  I studied every day, countless equations and fundamentals of glaciology.  On November 16th, I walked into a small conference room with 4 very smart people.  For nearly three hours I was asked question after question about my proposals and had to defend them.  It was dreadful....yet somehow, by the grace of God, I passed.  Here is my quick blog recap about it.

So here it is, the end of the year and I am again in Antarctica.  My flight arrived in New Zealand on my birthday, and I am patiently awaiting my flight out to WAIS Divide for what will probably be my last season here.  All in all, it was a rather fantastic year.  I have again grown both mentally and spiritually this past year and had many realizations as to what really is important in life.  

Arriving in McMurdo off of the C-17

McMurdo Sea Ice Observation Tube

Final Thoughts
It is incumbent upon us all to live the life that we've imagined.  Our lives are a mere flicker of time, and blink out before we know it.  Here are a few more words of wisdom from the one man who can, and should, inspire us all.  These are words that I marinated on all summer, words that sculpted my soul, words that opened my eyes....

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  What is called resignation, is confirmed desperation."

"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-lie as to put to rout all that was not life; to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion"

"The surface of the Earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!  I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains.  I do not wish to go below now, nor ever.
I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.  He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him.
In proportion, as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.  If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.  Now....put the foundations under them!"
However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.  It is not so bad as you are.  It looks poorest when you are richest.  The faultfinder will find faults even in paradise.  Love your life, poor as it is.  You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse.  The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man's abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring.  I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace. "

"I am enjoying life as much as ever, and regret nothing."

H.D. Thoreau (excerpts from  Walden)

Emotional finish of the PCT...

The beautiful view form Muir Pass...that quite literally brought me to tears

So long 2010, and may 2011 bring equally poignant and fulfilling experiences to us all...

WAIS Divide

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year everyone...

so be well, take care, and suck the marrow out of life!

-John "lakewood" Fegyveresi

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back in McMurdo Station, Antarctica

Well,  I've made it successfully back to McMurdo Station Antarctica.  The entire crew is here and we are all waiting to fly out to WAIS Divide.  Again, things are a bit backed up and we will probably be sitting for a bit while we wait for the camp staff to plow out the drilling arch.

In the mean are some pics from the C17 flight..

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Once more unto the breach dear friends...

the stage is set,
the players are ready.

the ice beckons, and I shall answer the call.

What an incredibly trying month it has been.  I sit here now, on my couch, pondering over it all.  My perpetual stomach ache of the past few weeks is finally subsiding, and my mind is free to again be something other than single-focused.  I am last.

What the hell am I rambling on about?

Imagine if you will...getting three root canals done, while sailing over rough seas, and being subjected to the music of justin bieber for 3 hours.   Then...multiply that by 10.  That's about how unpleasant my morning today was.  

In order to pursue a PhD at The Pennsylvania State University, you must pass a qualifying exam.  This exam, called "Candidacy" consists of preparing two proposals and defending them in front of your committee.   This turns into a session of: "lets pummel the student until they curl up in the fetal position in the corner whimpering".  Needless to say, it is a miserable, yet necessary evil.  

This morning, I stood in front of my committee and presented my proposals.  One of which I discussed moderately with my advisor beforehand, one of which was completely my own idea.  For three hours I scribbled half-remembered equations on the board, talked about grain-growth in polar firn, and tried to pound my proverbial fist on the table that my ideas were good ones.

At the end, after 3 hours, I was kicked out into the hall where I sat for 15 minutes wondering if I passed or failed.  Meanwhile, they sat in the room deciding my fate.  There is a 30% fail rate for this exam, and if you do fail, you might (i stress "might") get another chance at taking the exam.  In my case, I had already decided that I wouldn't be taking it again if I failed....that I would be quitting the PhD program.

15 minutes later the door opened to hand shakes.  I passed.  I wanted to vomit.  It was over.  Then I was told that I barely passed.  It was a "squeaker" use their words.  Basically, my proposals alone would have failed me...but my presentation and defense were good enough to put me over.......barely.

I can't stress enough just how horrible an experience this all was.  Even now, with a Pass in the books, and knowing it's over, I don't really feel much better.  I thought I would, but instead just feel really stupid.  I forgot basic things I should've known, and now they all know just how much I don't know.  It fundamentally has me wondering:

- Am I cut out for writing good scientific proposals?
- Am I cut out for really pursuing a PhD
- Just what is it that I want to do for a career after I graduate?  Teach, Research, Industry?

I have 2 months down on the ice to think about this.  To think about what I really want to do with a PhD.   My manuscript for my masters has been submitted, and I will have nothing weighing me down.  I shall look forward, and put this experience behind me.  I survived.  I passed. It's over.  Time to focus on the future.

My future is limitless.  When I feel aimless, and am doubting myself.  Like always, there's Tennyson to guide me.  To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.   

       Think but this....and all is mended....right?

Anyhoo, last minute logistics to take care of and I fly out to Antarctica Thursday morning.  The ice is calling, and I must go.

- John, PhD Candidate

WAIS Divide Arch at camp opening this year.  Almost completely buried.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sometimes we need reminders

It's easy to fall back into the usual habits, rituals, and comfort zones.  In all of my Antarctica prep and school work, I often forget how just 3 months ago I was knee deep in river fords and gazing across glacially carved valleys at breathtaking mountain-sides.  Our bodies and minds can so easily forget highs and lows.  It seems we have a tendency to sort of "average" an experience over whatever time period it was done in.  In other words, the entire summer of 2010, just like the summer of 2007, will be remembered fondly as a great experience walking along the PCT.  Somewhere in there though, are the subtleties, the peaks and valleys, that make the experiences we all have so unique.

Last week I ordered some PCT stuff online just to have my usual stash of paraphernalia:  patches, water bottle, etc.  I got to thinking about this photo I have on my desk at school.  It's a framed photo from my Katahdin summit on the AT.  I look at the picture a lot while I'm sitting there, toiling away on some proposal or something.  It helps me to remember what can be accomplished when we have pure determination.  Much like I stated after finishing the Leadville 100:

"Inside each and every one of us is an infinite well.  An infinite well of determination, drive guts, grit, and will.  At any point we can tap this and accomplish things that we would normally think to be impossible. We just have to believe, and that well is endless.  When you need more, you just dig deeper.  Each of us can do more than we think we can, and is capable of more than we think we are."

So "lest I forget" I decided in lieu of another framed "finish" picture at work, that I would make something that I would see everyday, that would remind me of what I'm capable of...when I believe.

Every morning when I sip my coffee I will see two things:

1.  My motto, anthem, and motivator while I hiked the PCT:
       "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield..."
Tennyson's quote that symbolizes for me, the drive to keep going, discover new places and adventures, and to never give up.  Also, these words are forever inscribed under the memorial of Robert Falcon Scott...the polar explorer who lost his life while trying to best Roald Amundsen in the race to the South Pole.

2.  My reason for pushing myself like I do...
      "...and not when I come to die, discover that I had not lived..."
Thoreau's quote that reminds us all, that we had better get to living....and not have any regrets when our time does come.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's coming soon....again

....The days of long flat white, endless sun, and biting cold.....

oh and playing in the snow....

Monday, October 18, 2010

PCT : Closing the Chapter

Today I received my PCT completion medal in the mail.  As a thru-hiker, I had the option of registering on the website to receive one.  The site claims that because of the donation of Eric Ryback (the first pct thru-hiker), all current or past thru-hikers are eligible for a FREE medal.  I simply had to fill out some forms.  I know these things can't be cheap, so I gave an optional donation to the PCTA to at least, hopefully, cover the cost.  On the front is a raised map of the trail with both the current PCT logo/marker, and the previous marker from a few decades ago.   On the back, they've engraved it with my name and year.

All in all, this is a nice way to close the chapter on an amazing and challenging summer.  I am very glad I had the opportunity to live life to the fullest, and walk such a breathtaking trail.  I am also glad that the chapter is behind me.

Antarctica is coming up fast.  I deploy in one month.  I am scrambling here to get many things done before I leave.  I am looking forward to another field season, but I am also realizing that this will be the third christmas, thanksgiving, and new years day that I'll miss.  I will enjoy my time down there, but also be content knowing it may be my final season for a while.  (pending involvement with another project).

that's it for now...

"I'm enjoying existence as much as ever, and regret nothing." - Thoreau

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why did you hike the trail?

I get this question a lot with regards to both my AT and PCT thru-hikes. I've had a very hard time answering it. In a previous post I even talked about not being able to "put my finger on it". I stumbled across a quote from fellow thru-hiker, Jonathan Ley...and it certainly reflects a lot of my own thoughts on it:

"I hiked the trail because life is made of experiences, and I hope to have as many as possible.
I hiked the trail because unfulfilled dreams became regrets, and I intend to have as few as possible.
I hiked the trail to share in something unique that few have known, or will ever know.
I hiked the trail to experience beauty, to be immersed in it.
I hiked the trail to see and to better understand the country I lived in.
I hiked the trail to learn about my own limitations.
I hiked the trail to learn about how the world worked, and to better understand my place in the natural order of things.
I hiked the trail to avoid living a life that had already been played-out by countless others.
I hiked the trail to think, to dream, to imagine and to reflect, unencumbered by the distractions of modern life.
I hiked the trail to endure mental and physical hardships, and perhaps become stronger as a result.
I hiked the trail to learn what was truly important in my life, in any life.
I hiked the trail to separate my wants from my needs.
I hiked the trail to meet people, and learn from them.
I hiked the trail to live an active life rather than a passive one.
I hiked the trail to gain perspective, not only to think, but to live "outside the box"
I hiked the trail to be able to share the experience with others who either could not or did not care to do it themselves.
I hiked the trail to achieve a level of physical conditioning I'd never though possible.
I hiked the trail to experience things that could not be described with words or pictures.
I hiked the trail to live not in fear, but in wonder." on jonathan

My Pacific Crest Trail Slide Shows

Finally got all of my pictures together in my usual slide-show format and posted them on youtube.  The pictures are all the same as the ones on Flickr...just set to some music.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Walking the West - An Honest PCT Documentary

There are many of you out there who have a hard time wrapping your head around a 2663 mile thru-hike. What motivates one to do this?  How does one prepare? What hardships does one encounter?

While I could do my best at trying to write an extensive handbook on do's and don'ts, the the preparation, the hardships, etc....I thought it easier to maybe first...simply post these video clips.

"Walking the West" was a documentary that came out several years ago that follows the journey of two guys, and Irishman and a Kiwi, on their quest to thru-hike the PCT.  Neither one of these guys had ever done any real backpacking before, so it's told from a point of view of two people with VERY large learning curves.  It really gives a great beginner angle to attempting a trek like this.  The story starts with some background and explaining how both of the guys decided to quit their high paying Silicon Valley jobs and cash in their retirement plans to go on this adventure.  They do there best at trying to dehydrate their own food, plan mail drops, and buy "lightweight" gear.  As they start walking, they learn quickly, that things are a lot different once you get on the trail.  Quite an ending as well.  Add to that, that it's very entertaining, funny, and well-edited...and you get a great story.

Incidentally, "Walking the West" also won some Independent Film Festival Awards.  I really recommend watching both parts.  It truly is a great documentary.  I watched these clips in the Fall of 2007 just after finishing my AT thru-hike and starting Graduate School.  It was after watching them, that I decided to put the PCT on my life's list of "To-Dos".  So here you go:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Feet to Take Me - PCT Epilogue

Some Thoughts

It has been two weeks now since I stood triumphantly along the 49th parallel, the international border between Canada and the United States, at monument 78...the Northern Terminus of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.  While many of the thoughts and feelings that I have had over these two weeks are reminiscent of those I had soon after finishing the Appalachian Trail, I have to admit, that this overall PCT experience seems to be fading with a much greater intensity.  In a way, I'm glad that I won't be sitting around, sulking and pining for the days of the long expansive trail like I did three years ago, but I am a little sad that such an amazing experience can so easily be put away into the dusty filing cabinet of my memory of life experiences. I truly thought that this entire pilgrimage (or whatever you want to call it), would leave a more permanent etching into the transcendental and philosophical region of my mind.  Perhaps I'm just expecting too much, or perhaps it's still too soon...but I kind of want to miss it all more.  I feel like I've earned the right to miss it....if that makes any sense.  Don't get me wrong, I do miss the simplicity of it all, but I have no desire to be out there right now.  With that said though, how is that I can spend four months of my life walking; four months of my life building incredible unique memories; four months of my life going through such different environments (ie snow, desert, mountains, rain forest, etc) as opposed to the long green tunnel of the AT, and yet it all seems to be one big blur in my mind?  What's more, is that when I think back to specific memories, they almost seem to be from a 3rd person point of view; almost as if I watched a documentary about it and I was in opposed to it being an actual memory of mine.

Needless to say, this is all a little anticlimactic.  When I set out to hike the Appalachian Trail, I was single in purpose, and driven by a desire to prove to myself that I could say my goodbyes and to wipe clean my much-tarnished slate.  I walked for over 1500 miles with tunnel vision.  I had chaos unfolding in my mind and heart as I asked myself countless questions...and tried to answer them over and over again.  "Why did this happen?", or "What could I have done differently?", "How long will I miss them?"...etc.  It wasn't until Vermont, mile 1700, that the answers started to come, my peripheral vision came alive, and I finally began to experience the trail for what it was: A beautiful National Scenic Trail, with gorgeous views, and stunning landscapes.  The last 500 miles of the AT, changed my entire perspective on life, and on living.  I started school that fall reborn, and with a new sense of purpose.

but, that was then.....and this is now.

This PCT experience has been very different.  When I started walking I didn't have that single-minded sense of purpose.  I just knew (or at least I thought I knew), that I needed to go walking for a while.  Over last winter while I was deployed in Antarctica, I was overcome by a horrible lull.  I have never really felt a sense of melancholy or despondency in my life that wasn't brought on by an obvious sad event...yet in Antarctica I felt sort of lost, aimless....despite many positives in my life.  To this day, I don't know why this came about or what exactly it was, but when I searched my mind to find an answer, what I came up with was that I needed another solo-walk.  Not a walk like on the Colorado Trail (a short, scenic, fun walk), but a serious AT-style walk.  So the idea of a PCT walk, which had already been on my life to-do list, became my solution.  The difference, however, is that this time I didn't have a whole slew of unanswered questions, or wounds that needed healing.  I honestly didn't know what it was that I was missing...or just how I was going to get it back by walking.

When I began the planning, it was important to me to keep the spirit of my late father alive and honor him through my the hike in some way.  I set up the memorial fund as a way to do this, and as a way to raise some money for a good that has affected my family deeply.  This was important to me...and still is, but was also not that single-minded sense of purpose on my hike like others who were hiking for charities had.  Perhaps it should have been, but it wasn't.  I found that while it was a part of my journey, I didn't advertise it very much.  If people asked, I told them, once a month I put a blurb up here about it, but I didn't evangelize it.  Again....perhaps I should have, but I would have felt dishonest if I told people it was "Why I was hiking"...because it wasn't the sole reason I was.  In the end, the memorial fund did raise over 1200 dollars, and many wonderful and kind people donated to it...something I'll be forever grateful for.  This is the truth.

The actual walking was very different on this hike.  Especially the solo walking.  For much of the journey, I kept my mind busy with trivialities and by hiking with others, but also thought a lot about people I was missing back home....something I wasn't used to.  For all of the miles that I had company, I found that the simple act of walking-while-chatting, kept me at ease.  During the SoCal sections, it was still so early on, the novelty hadn't worn off and during the Sierra, the pure challenge and focus of snow-hiking and navigation kept my mind occupied.  In NoCal, I had a small group of good hiking partners that allowed the several hundreds of miles to fly by.  In Southern Oregon I was too busy dodging mosquitoes to think about things.  In northern Oregon, I finally had 6 days of solo hiking, but treated them as sort of a mileage game...and before I knew it I was in Cascade Locks looking ahead to Canada a mere 500 miles away.  Southern Washington flew by with the help of some good hiking friends, and it wasn't until Snoqualmie when I finally hit the wall.  I was solo-hiking, and couldn't come up with a convincing reason to keep going.  I desperately wanted to go home.  I was missing certain people very badly.  But then something happened.  Against my own will, I decided to keep walking...and I finally had the feeling I was looking for.  The last week on the Pacific Crest Trail was magical.  I stopped for hours at a time to just admire the simplicity and beauty of my surroundings.  Things were back in alignment for me.  When I hit Manning Park, I had myself convinced that I was my "old self" again and that my walk was a success.  I sit here now though, wondering....was it?

This is what I've been thinking about a lot the past two weeks.  Just why was I really out there walking 25+ miles a day?  Why was I purposely keeping myself half-way across the country from people I would have much rather been with back home?  Why was I purposely missing important lab work and research in Denver?  Why was I walking?

I don't really have a good answer to these least not yet.  What I've come to realize is that perhaps this hike wasn't about the usual cliches.  It wasn't about "soul-searching", or "getting away", or "living life to the fullest", or "mentally and physically challenging myself", "proving to myself x, y, or z".

This hike was simply about being someplace, and doing something where I knew I would feel right....that would feel familiar...where I would feel safe.  That sounds incredibly ridiculous, but it is true.  I can travel the world, see extraordinary things, and spend time with incredible people.  In all cases, there are times when I feel like things are "as they should be".  For whatever reason though, over the past year I somehow shifted "out-of-phase".  Despite going to amazing places, and spending time with wonderful people, I just didn't feel right.  Walking along the winding, dusty, and often snowy tread of the PCT this summer, I felt in alignment...something I needed (for whatever reason).  I didn't have that uneasiness that I had had for the past year.  I was back in a place where I could simply breathe in, and breathe out...and live simply again.  This all sounds incredibly selfish...and in a way it is.   But, I truly believe without doing this, I would have only become more uneasy, and probably pushed away those people that are most important to me.  So perhaps it was somewhat of a "healing" process, even though I wasn't really "hurt" in a traditional sense.  I don't know if I'll every understand why it was that I fell into a sort of funk over the course of 2009, and just how this hike was the logical answer...I just know that it worked.  I am home now, happily, and I know who and what is important to me.  I hope that in time more answers will come, but I am content knowing that I was fortunate enough to go on an incredible journey, I saw indescribable scenery and landscapes, and that I'm happy to be home and to be myself again.  Despite the overall journey already starting to be filed away in my mind, and the somewhat anti-climactic sensation of it all...I am definitely in a better place, and with plenty of incredible memories to go with it.

SO....onto the not-so-philosophical stuff:

Some factoids:
Longest Hiking Day: 40.4 (Northern Oregon)
Shortest Hiking Day: 1.5 (It was actually a 10 mile day, but only 1.5 on the PCT)
Number of Days it sprinkled on me (ie pack cover and light rain coat): 8
Number of Days it rained on me (ie poncho): 0
Number of Pop tarts eaten: ~60
Number of Miles on my Cascadia 5's: 1200 and 1000
Number of Miles on my montrails before dying: 500
First time I stepped on snow: Mt Laguna (Mile ~40)
Last time I stepped on snow: 8 miles before Canada (Mile ~2642)
Percentage of visible trail throughout 500 miles of the Sierra: ~10-15%
Number of times snowed on: 2
Number of unfrozen Sierra Lakes: 1
Worst Mosquito Day: Near Irish Lake, OR
Best Food/Restaurant: Stehekin Bakery and Drakesbad
Best Town: Stehekin, Etna, and Sierra City
Best Overall Town Experience: Cascade Locks
Worst Town: Probably South Tahoe
Worst Overall Town Experience: Yosemite
Most lost I was on trail: 5 hours just south of Lake Tahoe
Worst Postholing day: Forester Pass
Scariest Ford: Probably Falls Canyon Creek (Thermarest Ford)
Most Dangerous Ford: Wright Creek (I fell in and lost GPS and pole)
Deepest Ford: Evolution Creek: Chest High
Weight lost: 18 lbs
Weight gained back: 8lbs
Longest Stretch on one resupply: Kearsarge Pass to Tuolumne Meadows
Longest Hitch: Yosemite Valley and/or Bishop
Favourite Section of trail: North Cascades
Least Favourite section of trail: South-Central Oregon (North of Crater Lake)
Coldest Temp: 15 Degrees (April 24 Near Morena)
Hottest Day: 100 (July 18 Seiad Valley)
Scariest Experience:  Chopping foot holds on a very ice chute on the climb up to Muir Pass
Slowest hiking day (most frustrating):  Climbing up to Dorothy Pass (after falls canyon creek)
Best Beer: Etna Brewery Beer, and Walking Man Beer

If there's any other factoids you'd like to know, simply ask in a comment.

What Would I Do Differently?
This is always a tough question for me to answer.  What makes the experience so unique, is that it does include some goods and bads.  Overall, I'm very pleased with the way things worked out (other than the crazy snow).  My gear held up pretty good, and I had very good experiences.  If I had to change some things though, here's what I might have done differently:
  • I would have started later.  It is against my nature to zero a lot...but with all the snow, I was forced to early on in SoCal.  In the end, there was still too much snow in the Sierra and NoCal even with all the zeros.  Had I started in mid-may, I think I would have had a much smoother experience.
  • Would have bought more food along the way and not done as many drops.
  • Probably would not have done a bounce box at all
  • I would not have worried so much about keeping up or "catching" other hikers.  Not that I was doing this very much, but in NoCal, I hiked a lot of very big mile days with other hikers who were simply faster and stronger hikers than me.  This made for some tough days for me.
  • Might have possibly done either a different stove solution, or NO stove.
  • I would have used a single 20 degree sleeping bag for the ENTIRE trail, instead of two different ones.
  • Would NOT have gone into Yosemite unless I was planning on spending more than 1 zero day there.  It's too beautiful of a place to rush through.
  • Would NOT have road-walked around Fuller Ridge and Mt. Baden-Powell.  In retrospect, these two decisions were the ones I most regretted.  The snow in both of these sections was considerably less than anything I dealt with in the Sierra...but I let other people's fear-mongering get to me.
  • I WOULD NOT HAVE LISTENED SO MUCH TO OTHER HIKERS' WARNINGS AND EXAGGERATIONS.  Other hikers have a natural tendency to talk up and exaggerate negative trail conditions.  This habit was pervasive on the trail.  No matter how much snow was actually on the trail in a certain section, or how many blowdowns I had to climb over...the trail was always reported as "Impassable!".  I wish I just would have smiled, nodded, and gone to see for myself before getting worked up about things.
  • I would have budgeted time to work for a week during my hike as part of a trail crew.
  • I would have zeroed in Stehekin, Etna, and Sierra City
  • I would have brought Flagyl with me from the start....just in case.
  • I would have tried to eat a little healthier.
  • I would have kept my GPS in a more secure place on my backpack.
  • I would have bought three pairs of Brooks shoes instead of using a pair of Montrails.
  • I would have started with Dirty Girl gaiters.
  • I would have started with a sun hat.
  • And a few other things that I'm forgetting....
Gear Review
I'm not going to review all of my gear, but I will at least go over the basics:

  • Pack:  2007 GoLite Jam2 (and 2007 GoLite Pinnacle in the Sierra).
I had seriously considered buying a new pack for this hike, and even came close at the kick-off.  In the end I stuck with my older generation Jam2 (and Pinnacle), and had a great experience with it.  As usual, it held up just fine and functioned as expected.  It is certainly not the nicest pack out there, nor the most efficient, but it works for me.  Unfortunately, it is pretty beat up now after having survived over 3200 miles and so I will have to consider something new in the future.  The newer go-lite packs have extra pockets and I may not stick with them.  The most popular packs on the PCT were ULA, Gossamer Gear, homemade Cuben Fiber and silnylon packs, and even McHale packs.  I didn't see very many golites.  Seems they are somewhat of a dying breed.
  • Shelter:  Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape and Tarptent Moment
For the first 700 miles I slept simply under a poncho tarp....on my thermarest...ona piece of tyvek.  It worked great.  It never rained, and my only issue was ants.  It would not have been justified to carry a full tent for this section.  I was very pleased with the cape.  It set up easily, and  packed small.  I never had to use it as a poncho, but did try it on several times.  Overall....great product.  It is small underneath though, and probably would not work well for people over 5'10".  After Agua Dulce, I started using a Tarptent Moment.  I had originally planned on using my old Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo, but it was pretty screwed up.  I ordered a Moment while in Warner Springs and started using it after my stay at the Saufleys.  What I loved about the Moment, was how easy it was to set up.  Sure it was a few ounces heavier than a cuben fiber tarp, and required a pole, but it was so simple.  When I'd get to camp at night, I would literally have my shelter up and pitched in under a minute.  In three minutes, I'd have my thermarest inflated, sleeping bag laid out, and be starting dinner.....ALL while my hiking buddies would still be tying out their guylines, and pitching their crazy and intricate tarp systems.  No thank you.  For simplicity, you just can't beat the Moment.  I absolutely loved this tent.  The only negative comment is that mice were able to chew through the bottom meshing very easily.  It also did well the few times it got rained on....but as with any single wall silnylon tent....the condensation in the morning was sometimes quite a bit.  Nothing a trusty bandana can't fix though :-)
  • Pad:  Thermarest Prolite-3 and Neo-AIR
I started the hike with my old trusty Prolite-3...a pad that I still stand by.  It is light and sturdy.  The only downsides are that it doesn't provide that much comfort, and doesn't pack down very small.  I bit the bullet, and bought an expensive Neo-air in Agua Dulce, and never regretted it.  Not only does it give over 2 inches of soft comfort, but it packs down very small, and can even be used as a raft to help in river fording ;-)   The only down sides are that it is very expensive, and that it is delicate.  I carried a small patch kit just in case, but got lucky and had no punctures.  Also, it does take a good 60 seconds, and 30 full breaths to inflate.  This always made for a fun little dizzy spell each night.

  • Sleeping Bag:  Western Mountaineering Summerlite (32 Degree), North Face Highline (15 Degree)

Both bags performed superbly and I had no issues with either.  I would recommend them both.  The North Face bag was a bit overkill but did ok.  I think in retrospect I would have rather had a single 20 degree bag for the entire trail, but swapping out via the US mail wasn't a big deal.
  • Shoes:  Brooks Cascadia 5
Best trail runners ever.  My first pair lasted over 1200 miles, and my 2nd about 1000.  They are very light, drain well, are very flexible (ie no hot spots, rub spots, or blisters), and hold up against wear and tear very well.  I never had a single blister while I wore these.  The only weakness is against puncture.  While the meshing holds up very well against abrasion, it can puncture.  I kicked up a small stick in Oregon with about 400 miles on my 2nd pair and popped a small hole in the meshing.  It quickly spread and by the time I made it to Canada, had turned into a very large hole on the side of the shoe.  This probably would have happened with any shoe, so I'm not really putting much into this experience.  In the end, I got over 2200 miles on two pairs and in both cases, there was still good tread left on the bottoms.  As for the other 500 miles....well I hiked those in a pair of Montrails that were absolute garbage (see below)
  • Clothing:  Merino Wool and Patagonia Nine Trail Shorts (and other stuff)
On this hike I steered away from my usual synthetic clothing and went with Merino wool layers.  This was a great decision.  I wore the same Icebreaker 150 merino wool shirt every single day I hiked.  Other than a small hole which I sewed closed, it is still wearable today.  Merino doesn't retain odor like synthetics either, so I wasn't gassed out by my own B.O. every night.  In addition, I wore a Merino Hoodie that was my favourite piece of clothing.  I wore it in the desert to keep my head shielded, and all through the cold sections for that little extra bit of warmth.  By Washington, it started breaking down though and literally fell apart the last 2 days of hiking.  The quality of wool was obviously less than that in the icebreaker shirt, but it was still my favourite piece of clothing.  Merino does a great job at keeping you warm when cold, and cooler when hot.  Good stuff.  As far as shorts...I wore my nine trails shorts for the entire hike.  These are the same shorts I wear on my road and trail runs, and the same shorts I wore on the AT.  They are still the best shorts ever made in my opinion.  Good fitting liner, zippered pockets, no chafing issues, and comfortable.  All of my other clothing worked well too.  Montbell parka (same as on my CT hike) worked well in the sierra, golite virga rain coat, rainpaints etc....All good.
  • Gaiters:  Dirty Girls
My DG's and Crocs?

If you were to have told me that I was going to hike almost the entire PCT wearing gaiters, I would have laughed at you.  I don't do gaiters.  At least I didn't.  I started the trail with a pair of Mountain Laurel Designs gaiters as sort of an experiment...that ended up being terrible.  In Agua Dulce, I started wearing a pair of 15 dollar Dirty Girl stretchy gaiters and wore them all the way to Stehekin (90 miles from the end).  I now see the wisdom of gaiters.  For the first 400 miles I was constantly taking my shoes off to empty out sand and gravel.  It was pretty nice to be able to hike all day and never have that annoying pebble find its way into your shoe....hoping if you wiggle your foot just right, it might magically go away.  I am a firm believer in these gaiters now and will not hike another long hike without them.
  • Socks:  Darn Toughs
I hiked the entire AT in DeFeet Wool-E-ators and had a great experience with them.  More recently though, I had been running several ultras in the Vermont Darn Toughs.  I thought I'd try them out on a thru hike.  Overall, they held up very well.  I went through 4 pairs in total.  This may seem like a lot, but it was my own fault.  I didn't keep up proper care of my socks like I should have.  I should have rotated them more, and cleaned them out of sand and dust every night.  I severely underestimated the destructive power of the sand and dirt out west.  No matter how strong your socks are, if you don't take care of them, they will get holes quickly out west.  
  • Misc:
As usual, I loved my Casio Pathfinder, my alcohol stove, my camera, my sunglasses, sun hat, trekking poles, and headlamp.

That's it for now...(might post a few more later)

Really there's just two:
  • Gaiters:
I started with Mountain Laurel Designs half-height gaiters...which common sense should have told me was a bad idea.  They don't fit up over your calf.  So, if you tighten them to stay up, it cuts of the circulation in your legs....if you loosen them, they fall down.  Add to that...they have an elastic band that goes under your shoe that frays with less than 20 miles of walking...and you have an absolute crap product.  Enough  said.
  • Shoes:
Montrail AT Plus.  I so wanted to believe in Montrail again.  Desperately.  The hard rocks were my chariots on my AT hike.  I went through a couple of pairs and they worked wonderfully.  I sang praises of Montrail.  But then, in 2008, I bought a pair on the Colorado Trail and they were all wrong.  Something was different.  They hurt my feet, dug into the sides, and I was very upset.  Turns out, Columbia bought out Montrail and in doing so the quality of several of the shoe lines dropped significantly.  In training for my first ultras I came across the Brooks and found another solution with the Cascadias, but was nervous that they wouldn't hold up on a thru-hike.  In a last desperation attempt, I logged on to in March and noticed that there was a brand new shoe out:  the AT Plus.  Montrail stated on their website, "You complained, and we listened".  The AT Plus was supposed to be Montrail getting back to their days of "well designed shoes" and be a solid replacement to the Hardrock that lived up to the reputation of its good ol' days.  Thousands of people complained to Montrail that their shoes had gone down hill, and they responded with a new and improved shoe line.  I had hope again!  I bit the bullet and bought the $110 pair of shoes (despite having a pro-deal with brooks), and stowed them away as my "Sierra Shoes".  They were tougher and sturdier than the Cascadias, and would make for great mountain shoes.   Long story short....they were CRAP.  Within the first 100 miles, they began falling apart.  Both shoes.  Seams started coming undone, tread starting coming off, and I started getting friction spots and sore feet.  Add to that the fact that they drain horribly, and I was walking over 500 miles on some of the toughest trail, in TERRIBLE footwear.  I can't stress this enough....these shoes are GARBAGE.  Every other hiker that I ran into wearing these I asked about their experience....and they all had similar ones.  Shoes falling apart, making their feet sore...etc.  Sorry Montrail, but you've lost me as a customer for life.  I really wanted to believe that you had come back to your old ways, but you haven't.  Good luck in the future.

That's it for now...I'll try to fill in the gaps later....