Wednesday, December 25, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 11 — Shadow Creek to Red’s Meadow

Shadow Creek was aptly named, tucked into a narrow canyon with steep walls blocking the sun until late morning.  We rose in the shadowy cold, ate breakfast and walked the short distance to Shadow Lake as the sun hit the water.  Tendrils of fog hung above the lake, the air ripe with smells of wet pine and half-rotten wood.

We headed southeast, ascending steep switchbacks through a forest of lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock and fir trees.  Occasionally the trees gave way and I stopped to soak in the mountain views and catch my breath.  But the boys were strong.  They had changed so much from the previous week.  They just pushed on all morning, walking side by side without stopping, talking excitedly about their world of stretchies, butt crack monsters and stretchy butt cracks (you’ve gotta love young boys).

We’d run low on food, and we stopped beside a pond for a skimpy and entirely unsatisfying meal of nuts and dried fruit.  Afterwards, I walked to the shore to filter water.  The lakebed was mucky with algae and fine sediment, so I walked out onto a fallen log to keep the gunk from clogging our water filter.  Water striders ran across the water’s surface and small fish darted here and there beneath them.

I’d filled three bottles and was nearly finished with the fourth when for some spastic reason I lost my balance and slipped into the pond, soaking my boots and my only dry pair of socks (I’d washed my other pair in the creek that morning).  “Darn!”

I trudged through the muck back to shore, took off my filthy boots and wrung as much water from my socks as I could.  The water I squeezed out of them was black as coffee.  I let the socks sit in the sun for a few minutes before putting them back on and lacing my boots over them.  Then we shouldered our packs, still hungry, and pushed on.  I squished when I walked.

Late in the afternoon we reached Johnston Meadow and stopped beside the trail.  “Should we camp here?” I asked.  We’d gone eight miles since morning, and we were all hungry and starting to feel trail weary.

“How far is Red’s Meadow?” Noah asked.  We’d told the boys that there was restaurant in a place called Red’s Meadow where we’d be stopping for a real meal and could probably get ice cream or some other remarkable treat.

“It’s still four miles,” I answered.  “We’ll get there tomorrow.”  Pam and I had secretly fantasized about gorging ourselves on hamburgers, fries and cold Sprite that evening, but we’d agreed that it was unrealistic to expect the boys to hike twelve miles.

“Can we please do it today,” Noah asked.

“Yeah, can we?” echoed Kai.

“It’s a pretty long ways,” I said, grievously aware of the hollowness in my stomach, wanting more than anything to say yes but trying to be realistic.  “I think we better just plan to eat lunch there tomorrow.”  I could almost taste the hamburger.

“Please,” the boys begged in stereo.  “We can do it.”

Pam and I looked at each other and reached some silent understanding with our stomachs.  “Okay.  But if you get too tired we can stop along the way.”

“We won’t.”

And they didn’t.  We descended an uncomfortably hot, dusty section of trail into Devil’s Postpile National Monument, everyone plodding quietly, lost in our own daydreams of blisters and burgers, backaches and blueberry cobbler.  The bottoms of my feet ached, and smoke from the Aspen Fire once again thickened the air.

As we finally neared Red’s Meadow we entered an area that burned in 1992 during the Rainbow Fire, a blaze that consumed more than 8,000 acres of forest around the Mammoth Lakes area, and it felt somehow surreal walking amongst the charred carcasses of trees that burned more than twenty years earlier, the air now heavy with smoke from a new fire, the evening light casting an orange glow on everything.  We coughed and hacked to clear our lungs and pushed on.

We reached a fork in the trail at the same time as anther John Muir Trail hiker named Bill.  There was no sign, and we pulled out our maps and tried to figure out which route led to French fries and a cold drink.  “I think it’s that way,” Bill said, pointing to a dusty section of trail that ran on through the valley we’d entered.  “But I’ll run up this way a little and check it out.”  He nodded to the other branch.

“Sounds good.  Thanks.”  Pam, the boys started hiking again while Bill took off in the other direction.

We’d gone maybe half a mile when I spotted Bill running towards us without his pack.  “It’s back here.  They close in five minutes, and they said they’ll turn people away!”

I stared at him, my trail-weary mind taking a moment to soak in what he’d just yelled to me.  Five minutes.  We had to run.  Even if we ran it was almost impossible that we’d make it in five minutes.  The boys had hiked twelve miles already.  We were beat.  Our backpacks felt like motorhomes on our backs.  “Okay.  Thanks.  Tell them we’re coming!”  I yelled back.  Then I turned to the boys.  “We have to run or we won’t make it.”

“We won’t get food?!” Noah practically wailed.

“No!” Kai echoed.

“Just come on.”  I took Kai’s pack off his shoulders and hugged it to my chest as I ran back up the trail.  “Hurry guys!”  I pictured my hamburger, a giant juicy thing slipping away through the trees.  It was surprisingly nimble and quick, like some spritely wood nymph that would let me glimpse it, giggle a little and then disappear beyond a cluster of tree trunks.  But I was going to catch it.  I was going to run it down and grab onto it with my teeth and wrestle it to the ground and tear into it like a savage.  My burger would not get away!

Eventually I reached a parking lot by some stables, my heart thumping like an Alex Van Halen drum solo.  Pam and the boys were out of sight, behind me and around a bend in the trail.  “This way, guys.  Run!”

About a hundred yards further on a cluster of buildings came into view.  There were several people milling about a log building with a sign that read Mule House Café.  A couple walking dejectedly in my direction shook their heads.  “They said they’re not letting any more people in.  They just turned us away.”

“You’re kidding me.”  I stood there, feeling like I might melt, my hamburger wood nymph disappearing forever into the forest.

Then I turned and looked back the way I’d come as Kai came running over a crest in the road.  He looked so little, his face worried and streaked with dirt, his hair unkempt and sun-streaked.  He was seven years old and he’d hiked twelve miles over rough mountains and through choking smoke to get a hot plate of food and a cold drink.  He was going to be crushed.

When he caught up to me I put my hand on his shoulder.  “I think they closed, buddy.”  I felt him wither beneath my hand.  “But let’s hurry over there and just make sure.”

When we reached the building we saw Bill standing outside.  “They’re closed.  They turned me away.”

“No.  I’m so sorry.”  He would have made it if he hadn’t come back to find us.  He would have been sipping on a cold beer already, sucking salt off a pile of French fries.

I dropped our packs against the wall and looked down at Kai again.  His face was flat, defeated-looking.  “Come on, man.”  I put my hand on his shoulder.  “Let’s just go talk to them.”

I led Kai in the front door and walked up to the counter.  The tables were packed, mostly with people staying at the nearby campground, but I recognized a few John Muir Trail hikers we’d passed earlier in the day.  They had fabulous heaps of food in front of them, cold bottles of beer in their fists, sodas with real ice cubes!

The lady behind the counter looked up and our eyes met.  I was painfully aware of the fact that I hadn’t showered in almost a week and probably smelled like a pent-up fart.  Then her eyes went down to Kai and lingered there.

“He just hiked twelve miles to get here,” I said quietly.  “Is there any way you can squeeze us in?”

She kept looking at Kai, as if weighing whether or not such a little guy really could have hiked that distance to arrive at her restaurant.  “You guys hiking a section of the JMT?”

“The whole thing actually.  He’s doing great.”

She looked up to meet my eyes again and studied me for a minute.  “Just the two of you?”

“Actually there are five of us.”  I thought of Bill outside and crossed my fingers behind the counter.

She looked back down at Kai, shook her head a little and then glanced around the restaurant.  “You’ll have to wait a while for a table.”

“No problem.”  I wanted to hug her, maybe even kiss her, but I stunk and knew such a thing wouldn’t be appropriate even I was freshly showered.  “No problem at all.  We’ll just wait outside.  Thank you so much.”

In the end Pam, Bill and I ate three of the most perfect hamburgers in the world, while Kai scarfed down a hotdog and Noah inhaled a grilled cheese sandwich.  We washed it all down with huge servings of pie and ice cream while the world darkened outside the restaurant windows.

We left our waitress a large tip and went to sleep knowing with all certainty that the Mule House Café at Red’s Meadow was the most perfect spot on Earth.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Kids Don't Play Any More

I think Margaret Wente hit the nail on the head in this article in The Globe and Mail

“Until age 7, what children really need is… play.”

Read the full article HERE and please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 10 — Island Pass to Shadow Creek

We’d camped at a high point with no ridges or peaks to the east, so the sun hit our campsite early, warming our tent and making it easier than usual to emerge from our sleeping bags.  I crawled outside and stood for a moment staring at Mount Davis, its granite crags and scattered snowfields enlivened by the early light.  I was relieved to see there was no longer any trace of blood when I peed, and I forced myself to drink another full liter of water.

Kai came out a short while later, his hair a confusion of sun-streaked tangles, his face smudged with dirt, and he smiled at me like a jack o’lantern, a new gap where his loose front tooth had been.

“You lost it.”  Just seeing him made me smile.  He looked like the epitome of boyhood—all frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

He held the little bloody tooth between his thumb and fingers to show me, looking as proud as if he’d just invented the space shuttle.  “I’m going to bury it on the mountain.”

“Cool. Then there will always be a part of you here.”


He went off to find the perfect spot to enshrine his tooth while I retrieved the bear canisters and put water on the stove to boil.  When he returned he squatted down beside me, looking satisfied.  “I marked the spot with a rock, so I can come back and find it when I’m grown up.”

“Perfect.”  I loved picturing it, Kai returning to Island Pass when he was my age and feeling an extra bit of connection because a tiny part of him had been inearthed in these mountains when he was seven years old.

Pam and Noah lingered in the tent, relaxing and cuddling until the water boiled and I told them oatmeal and hot drinks were ready.

“Can I eat mine with the frogs?” Kai asked, and he went to sit barefoot beside the shallow water, while Pam, Noah and I sat close to one another on a large boulder, soaking in the warm morning sun.

When we finally broke camp and hit the trail, we ventured through a world freckled with lakes.  We passed Thousand Island Lake first, enjoying views of its deep blue water and forested islands as we descended from Island Pass.  We stopped for a lazy lunch beside Emerald Lake, which lived up to its name, its water vivid as a jewel tucked into granite cliffs and towering pines, inviting us to soak our blistered feet as we ate.   After lunch we passed Ruby Lake then descended across an open, rocky hillside to Granite Lake, its steel-blue water stirred by afternoon winds, scattered whitecaps rising in open stretches and slapping against rocky islands.

We had to hold onto our hats to keep them from blowing away as we crossed the stream at the lake’s outlet, but the wind eased as we climbed a ridge to the south and once again entered the shelter of large trees.  The kids joined each other and walked side by side again, sharing more dreams about their futures, and I walked behind them quietly listening.  Noah decided to have a farm in Tennessee, where he could play guitar and sing in a rockabilly band while working a day job as an astrophysicist.  Kai decided to hang his hat on a farm in Colorado, where he’d work in search and rescue and have a million pets… before retiring in Malibu.

When they tired of dreaming about their futures, then entered an imaginary world of their own creation, a world filled with two types of monsters called butt crack monsters and stretchies (which interbred to create a third type of creature called a stretchy butt cracks).  As they waked they imagined several individuals of each type—assigning each one its own name, personality traits and history.  They kept at it, elaborating on each character in their magical world with growing excitement as we crested a ridge with unimaginable views of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter—sheer cliffs, knife-edged ridges, jutting peaks and the remnants of age-old glaciers. 

We’d experienced some smoke in the morning, but the afternoon wind had cleared the skies, leaving them blue and cloudless and perfect.  We pitched our tent on a knoll above Shadow Creek, which rushed wildly down a narrow canyon, all falls and rapids.  We ate dinner on a rock overlooking a cascade, then got in the tent early, each of us exhausted from the ups and downs the trail had thrown at us all day.  Noah wrote a story about a wolf man in his journal while Kai drew cartoons of characters he’d imagined during the evening named Fleece Man and Flipper Froglegs.

I closed my eyes and listened to the rush of water outside our tent.  As I listened the sound seemed to grow until it was everywhere—underneath and on top and inside me.  I reached out and touched the people I loved, and then I slept.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Juan Martinez

Photo courtesy of The Sierra Club
I read about Juan Martinez in Richard Louv’s book The Nature Principle.  He is the National Youth Volunteer Coordinator for the Sierra Club and he leads the Natural Leaders Network of the Children and Nature Network.  His story really inspired me, and I wanted to share it with you.

“I take kids who have been abused, heavily medicated for behavior problems, violent, distrustful, but after a few days outdoors they’re sharing feelings and fears, laughing, and thinking like a team. You may be able to see the stars through a computer screen or book, but it’s nothing like lying on the grass looking up at the Milky Way.”  Read more about Juan HERE.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 9 — Donahue Pass to Island Pass

It was a day of foolishness.  We’d packed most of our belongings, and Pam and I sat enjoying a final cup of coffee, soaking in the view of Mount Lyell and trying to ready ourselves for the slog over Donahue, when Kai yelled.  “I lost my camera.”  His eyes swelled with tears.

We’d given the boys each a camera the night before our trip, and you’ve never seen a kid so proud to own something as Kai was to have his very own camera.  He’d carried it every day, taking pictures of all the little things that perked his interest.  He spent hours talking about it.  “Can you believe my camera takes videos too?  Can you believe I can take color pictures and black and white pictures?  Look at this frog picture.  Isn’t this the coolest camera ever?”

Pam and I swallowed the last of our coffee and went to crouch with him beside his pack.  We dug through everything, but he was right.  There was no camera.

“I bet you set it down where we took our last rest break yesterday,” I said.  He looked so crushed.  “I’ll go back and look for it.”

I wanted to find the camera for him.   He’d loved it and I wanted him to have it for the rest of our journey.  But I felt impatient too.  We’d stopped a few miles short of our goal the afternoon before, and we’d already had a leisurely morning.  Now, we had to get over the pass and put miles behind us if we wanted to reach our next resupply before running out of food.  “You guys start hiking.  I’ll catch up.”

I took off all in a rush, without pausing to grab water or food, without stopping to assess whether or not Pam had enough water in her pack to last her and the boys, without reflecting on the fact that all I’d had to drink since waking up was coffee.

I jogged a couple miles back down the trail to the place we’d taken our last water break the day before, my eyes darting along the trail edges the whole way.  But when I reached that spot there was no camera to be seen.

“Darn.”  For some reason I’d been so sure it would be there.  I stood for a minute wondering what to do.  Then I shook my head and jogged further down the trail.  The camera had to be where we’d eaten lunch.  I wanted Kai to have it.

But when I got to our lunch spot it wasn’t there either.  The morning had grown hot.  I’d dropped almost a thousand feet in elevation already, and I was starting to feel thirsty.  I stood in the shade for a minute and swallowed my own spit to wet my throat.  Then I jogged further down the trail.  Kai’s camera had to be somewhere down there.  I ran all the way back to the campsite we’d used two nights earlier, but there was no camera.  I looked everywhere.

It was hot.  I looked back the way I’d come, the dusty switchbacks of Donahue Pass laughing at me in the late morning sun.  I was sweaty and thirsty, and I had to climb several miles and at least a thousand feet just to get back to my pack and the water bottles I’d left in it.

“Sorry, Kai,” I muttered.  Then I started jogging again, this time up… and up… and up.

I kept my eyes darting side to side along the trail, but there was no sign of the camera.  It was gone.

By the time I reached my pack my throat was so dry I could hardly swallow.  I flopped down and yanked out a water bottle and chugged.  I dug out a Clif Bar and scarfed it.  Then I heaved my pack onto my shoulders and set out to catch Pam and the boys.  I’d taken so much longer than I’d planned to, and I hoped they’d been able to make it several miles.

My body felt exhausted and the weight of my pack was awful, but somehow I found the energy to hustle up the switchbacks towards the summit of Donahue Pass.  It was a beautiful hike actually, all above treeline, ridges and peaks towering beside me like a giant saw blade, patches of ice and snow clinging to the northern slopes.  I passed several small, emerald-colored ponds tucked into glacial cirques.  Marmots poked out of the rocks and watched me pass.

After cresting the pass and starting down the eastern slope, I stopped at a trickling creek to filter water and drink.  Before lugging my pack back onto my shoulders I peed, and it came out a brilliant red color in the sunlight. 

“Come on,” I muttered.  I stood there feeling rubbery in my knees.  I was bleeding somewhere inside.  It looked like quite a bit.  But what did that mean?

I made myself chug another full bottle of water and refilled it before setting off again.

I found Pam and the boys a short distance downhill, the boys stripped down and playing in a small stream.  I was happy to see them.  I really was, but I looked at Pam and said, “Why didn’t you guys go further?”  It was just that we were falling so far behind schedule.  It was midafternoon and we still had to make it several miles.  We would run out of food if we kept dilly-dallying every day.

“We ran out of water.  You have the filter and all the lunch food in your pack.”  She met my eyes with a don’t-mess-with-me stare.

I grabbed her empty containers and started filtering water.  “Man, I…  I just wish you would have kept going.  I would have caught up to you with water and food.”  I said it as if I had it all under control.  As if I’d had a plan.  As if dehydration was some silly myth and I hadn’t just peed a scarlet stream of blood.

Pam grabbed one of the water bottles I’d filled, picked up her pack and took off.  I stood there quietly for a moment then filled the rest of the empty water bottles before telling the boys to put on their boots and shoving a snack bar at them.  “Drink as much of this as you can too,” I said, handing them a water bottle.  “Then let’s try to catch Mom.”  I felt bad.  She’d actually made a smart decision.  She’d kept the boys happy all afternoon.

But we didn’t catch Pam for almost three miles.  We made our way across a high meadow that seemed to come right out of Tolkien’s imagination—an expanse of knolls and stunted trees, pocked everywhere by tiny ponds and sprightly streams.  And beyond that, in every direction, peaks and ridges jutted into the sky like a thousand mythical fortresses, flanked by ice and granite.

We finally caught her late in the afternoon, at a stream crossing about a mile shy of Island Pass.  I took off my pack and gave her a hug, which she didn’t really reciprocate.  “I’m sorry I snapped at you,” I offered.  “You didn’t do anything.  You were being smart.  I was just stressed about falling behind and running out of food.  But I shouldn’t have said anything.  I should have given you the water filter before running off this morning.”

She nodded and hugged me back a little.

We shared some water and a small snack before pushing on little further and camping beside a small pond atop Island Pass.  It was a striking spot with rugged views of Mount Davis and its snowfields.  As the sun set, Pam and I hurried to make camp and cook dinner.  Noah read quietly on a rock above the pond, and Kai immediately took off his boots and waded into the mud to find frogs.

As Pam unloaded her pack she caught my eye.  Then she held up a small black case and smiled a little.  It was Kai’s camera.  Somehow it had ended up in the bottom of her pack.  We chuckled, and I shook my head.  “You’re a pain in the ass.”

“You too,” she said.

We ate dinner together in the gathering dusk then brushed our teeth, secured the bear canisters and got ready for bed.  It was dark by then, and I grabbed my headlamp and walked off a ways.  I shined my light down as I peed, and my legs turned rubbery again.  It was red.  I was still peeing blood.

“Come on,” I muttered again.  Before getting in the tent I drank another liter of water.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34
J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Schools Become, the More Nature They Need

This is another great article by Richard Louv.

“The ultimate multitasking is to live simultaneously in both the digital and physical worlds, using computers to maximize our powers to process intellectual data and natural environments to ignite our senses and accelerate our ability to learn and feel—combining the resurfaced “primitive” powers of our ancestors with the digital speed of our teenagers.”  Read the full article by Richard Louv HERE.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 8 — Lyell Fork River to Donahue Pass

It was a tough day of hiking, the climb towards Donahue Pass steep and continuous, our packs heavy from the resupply in Tuolumne Meadows.  But I was impressed with Noah and Kai.  Despite the fact that it was probably our toughest hike yet, they trudged steady uphill without complaining.  Of course, I had a pocketful of Starburst and Jolly Ranchers, and they knew that if they kept a good attitude they’d get to choose one every mile or so.

Early in the day, I’d found a cluster of wild strawberry plants beside the trail.  Most of the tiny fruits had been taken, but I managed to find three ripe ones, and I gave one each to Pam and the boys.  As we struggled up the trail a short while later, Kai stopped and looked back at me.  “They should make Starburst that taste like that strawberry.”

“Don’t you think it’s better just to eat strawberries?”

“Yeah, but we don’t have any more.”

We ate lunch on a tall rock, looking back at the green meadows of Lyell Canyon, sunlight glinting off the pools and meanders of the lazy river.  I would have given anything for a swim after eating, but the river was far below us now, so I settled for taking my boots off and lying on my back in the shade.  The kids ran around us on the rocks, and I smiled.  They were like windup toys all of a sudden, squirreling around and laughing, but as soon as we started up the trail again I knew I would need my pocketful of candy to maintain even an inkling of all that energy.

We intended to push all the way over Donahue Pass before camping, but a short distance below the summit we passed a meadow with great views of Mount Lyell and Donahue Peak, a creek forming a pond in the center.

“Maybe we should stop here,” I said quietly to Pam, “and keep it fun for the kids.”  But in all honesty it was me that had run out of steam.  I was beat, and that pond of water looked more inviting than any swimming pool I’d ever seen.

We dropped our packs, and within minutes the boys and I had stripped to our shorts and stood in the pool.  It was cold, the water having melted directly off snowfields on the jagged peaks above us, but I practically fell into it, holding my breath and lying beneath the water’s surface for a moment before jumping back up and hollering.  It was like some instant shot of wilderness espresso, my body suddenly recharged, all the energy that had drained away during the long climb rushing back in.  I dove a couple more times then went to dry in the sun.

Kai stayed along the water’s edge all afternoon and into the evening, watching fish and catching frogs.  He’d hold the frogs gently in his muddy hands for a few moments, studying them intently before letting them go again.  Noah played beside the water with him for a while, but eventually made his way to his own private portion of the meadow where he spent hours reading and enjoying his own thoughts.

We ate dinner as the sun set, alpenglow turning the snowfields to fiery jewels on the mountainside, the air calm, the pond’s surface reflecting granite ridges like the Sierra’s own looking glass.  We practically inhaled a package of Pepperidge Farm cookies.  Then I went to sit beside the creek, a lively cascade below the pond, where I filtered water.  A ground squirrel popped up nearby to watch me.  A Clark’s nutcracker flew over the water then perched on a stunted lodgepole pine nearby.

That night, as we lay in the tent, I felt the exhaustion creep back into my body, my limbs melting into the ground.  Pam read and Noah wrote in his journal.  Kai lay beside me fiddling with a loose tooth he was certain to lose any day, and I wondered if the Tooth Fairy was supposed to visit the John Muir Trail…  The Tooth Fairy hadn’t really planned for such things.

The air was so calm outside our tent, so quiet.  It seemed the only thing in the world was the stream.  I closed my eyes and let the tranquil sound wash over me, and I slept all night without waking.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Letting Biodiversity Get Under Our Skin

I found this article from Conservation magazine really interesting, and I wanted to share it with you.

“Some aspects of dirty living can be healthy. A new study posits that the decline of plant and animal diversity in cities may be linked to the recent surge of allergies and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”  Read the full article by Rob Dunn HERE.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 7 — Tuolumne Meadows to Lyell Fork River

The sky was all sunshine as we hiked southeast along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.  A bit of haze still hung in the air but the wind had shifted, a gentle breeze moving towards the fire, blowing the smoke away from us, and I hoped it would stay that way.

Lyell Canyon proved to be my favorite section of trail to date.  We spent the day passing through a long finger of meadow pocketed with wetlands and scattered rock, bound on both sides by steep, forested hills.  The river meandered lazily beside us, sometimes slipping playfully over small falls and gliding across slick slabs of granite.  We spotted deer, marmots, squirrels and countless birds.

Around midday, we stopped for a lazy lunch of trail mix, jerky and snack bars.  The kids played in the river while Pam and I waded out to sit on rocks in the middle and soaked our feet in the cold water.  I felt more peaceful than I had at any point on our trip, and I let that feeling sink into me along with the sun’s warmth, knowing this was what I’d come for.  This is what it was all about.  I was finally slipping into trail mode, a way of being that I hadn’t experienced in too many years, and I’d missed it.

We camped that night near foothills at the base of Donahue Pass, pitching our tent in a cluster of trees near the river.  From our campsite, a shelf of granite ran out to the river, forming a small cascade that spilled into a perfect swimming hole.  I stripped and lay down in the water, hooting a few times at how cold it was before I was able to scrub the trail grime from my skin.  Afterwards, I lay in the sun, letting my body dry while the kids explored a long section of the river.  They pretended to be some sort of monkey creatures, hunched and hopping, and I closed my eyes and listened to them grunt, snort and laugh.

That night we ate dinner atop clustered boulders, looking down at the river as light from the setting sun blazed orange and pink on ridges of the Kuna Crest.  The boys and I decided to sleep outside the tent, so after brushing our teeth and securing the bear canisters we spread our sleeping bags on a flat rock and read The Hobbit by the light of my headlamp.  Eventually we turned out the light and lay on our backs watching stars emerge.

Noah put on his glasses so he could see the stars better, everything about his face alive and awake.  Kai on the other hand, looked completely exhausted, and I actually though he’d already fallen asleep when he muttered, “Dad, will bears come right here while we sleep?”

“No.  We did a good job keeping camp clean and putting everything away.”

He was quiet again for a long time, and once again I thought he’d fallen asleep when he suddenly stirred.  “Dad, can I get in the tent with Mom?”

“Are you sure?  You can scoot right here against me if that feels better.”  I reached out and pulled him into a cuddle.

“I think I’ll just get in the tent.”

“Okay.”  I got up, helped him move his stuff and Pam snuggled him into the tent.

As I got back in my sleeping back Noah said, “Shooting star!”

“Really?”  I hurried onto my back and looked up, hoping there’d be a second.  I’d only waited a few minutes when another shot right above us, leaving a bright, long tail across the sky.

“Cool,” we both said.

And the meteors just kept coming.  We saw at least ten more before I finally got too tired and had to close my eyes.  I was almost asleep when Noah said, “Thanks, Dad.”

“Thank you,” I answered, and I scooted closer to him.  It gave me the happiest feeling, just knowing that he was laying there beside me soaking up a sky full of stars and feeling alive.  I’m not sure how long he stayed awake watching the sky.  I dozed off long before he did. 

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Are Your Kids 'Vitamin N' Deficient?

I enjoyed this article by Julie Bawden-Davis, and I wanted to share it with you.

“Even when children eat right and dutifully swallow multivitamins, they often lack a critical nutrient, because its absorption is blocked by the typical life most kids live. Called “Vitamin N” by some of the nation’s top pediatricians, this prescription doesn’t come in a pill: the N is for nature. Exposure to the natural world is considered a cure for various childhood health threats.”  Read the full article HERE.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

John Muir Trail: Day 6 — Rest Day at Tuolumne Lodge

I woke early in our tent cabin, snuck out the screen door while the others slept and went to get a coffee—a coffee for which I didn’t have to filter water or light my stove, a coffee that tasted like a cup full of heaven and ran down into my belly like some  liquid bear hug.  I carried my warm cup to the Dana Fork of Tuolumne River and hopped out to a flat rock in the middle, the water rushing playfully all around me.  And for a long time I just sat there in the chilly morning air, letting the cup warm my fingers, watching the world wake up.

Finally I dug out the maps and journal I’d brought with me and started planning our next few days of hiking.  We weren’t regimented about where we camped each night.  Most days we didn’t have a defined location that we felt we had to make it to.  Rather it was a matter of figuring out approximately how many miles we had to hike each day to make it to our next food supply before we starved.  Then I looked for places on our map that would give us enough mileage and were likely to have a water source, and we made those spots our goals.  Often, though, we’d stop somewhere other than our map goal because we’d spot the perfect swimming hole or a view we could never soak in sufficiently… or because we were just so darn tired.

After breakfast, we all showered again and spent some time washing the dust and grime from our clothes, hanging them on a rope outside our tent cabin, giving it a certain hillbilly aesthetic.  Then we rode the shuttle back to the grill and ate another huge lunch before picking up our resupply box from the tiny post office.  It was like Christmas when we returned to our cabin and I tore into the box.  Pam and the kids went to play by the river, and I spent more than an hour sorting through the various food items:  freeze-dried meals, nutrition bars in the most colorful packages, dried nuts and fruits, hot chocolate, coffee, oatmeal and large chocolate bars.  Most of it wouldn’t have excited the average Joe, but I’d been hungry for several days, and to me it was the most wonderful assortment of calories!

It was also a heavy assortment of calories—enough food to last us nine days, and it felt like it.  I loaded our packs, bent to heave mine onto my shoulders and groaned.  Then I bent to try Pam’s and groaned again.  Uh oh.  In two days we’d be slogging our way up Donahue Pass, our first pass over 11,000 feet, and it was going to be a struggle carrying these beasts!

After packing, I walked a mile or so to the ranger station to ask about the Aspen Fire.  Although it had improved for a couple days, smoke still hung in the air, moving in from the south, and it was obvious that flames still raged in that direction—the direction we’d be heading tomorrow.  From talking with rangers and other hikers we’d passed in the previous days, I’d learned that the Aspen Fire was burning in the Sierra National Forest, not far from a section of the trail we planned to pass in about a week.

When I walked into the small cabin that housed the Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center, a ranger with tired eyes looked up at me.  “Can I help you?”

“Yeah.  I’m just hoping to get an update on the Aspen Fire.  Are they getting it under control?”

“It’s burned more than 14,000 acres and it’s only thirty percent contained,” she answered as if she was a recording that had relayed the same message a thousand times.  Then she started shuffling papers.

“Darn.”  I stood there for a minute, trying to soak in what that meant for us.  “We’re heading south on the John Muir Trail.  Is there any other info you can give me?”

She kept moving the papers.  “It’s going to be smoky.”

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.