November 4, 2008

Halloween Hike

I set out to hike the south fork of the Whitewater Creek up to Camp Creek Saddle, down to Dry Creek, up Black Mountain to Apache Spring, and down to Little Dry Creek via Windy Gap, a 45-50 mile hike through gorgeous mountains and fall sceneries. On day two, I took a wrong turn and got stuck in a narrow canyon. I had to climb 2,000' up the steepest and scariest slope so far to rejoin the trail at Apache Creek. I again seriously strained my ankle in the rough climb and had to rest for half a day before resuming my hike. This Northwest side of the Gila is incredibly beautiful and the variety of landscapes and trees is truly amazing. I did not see much wildlife on this last hike, but boy, did I relish the fall colors, the crispy nights and the still quite balmy days. I came down to the valley to visit the San Francisco Hotsprings but went the wrong way when I got to the river. Not for no reason apparently, as after walking in the river for a quarter mile to avoid the terribly thorny vegetation, I ran into a young couple and their daughter also looking for these elusive springs. The fellow turns out to be from my hometown Lyon and she from Germany. I instantly fell in love with the gang and camped with them that night. They drove me to Silver City the next day as they were heading to Mexico and beyond, also in search of sustainable community. Knowing this was to be my last hike for a while (yes, I've got to get back to some form of work...) I really soaked it in-the fresh air, the quietness, the beauty and this incredible opportunity to walk places that so few humans ever get to see. I thanked the Spirits for protecting me during this harduous two months journey through some of the most beautiful nature I had ever visited. I did not have any big vision during this walkabout. I spent a lot of time digesting difficult events of the past, often struggling to maintain my focus in the present. I had to challenge myself to endure incredible pain in my left foot as if purging my body of some old poisons. I endured thirst at time like I never had, walking in 85 degree weather for miles without water, dreaming of a cool beer when I would reach a town. I had a glimpse of a bear, a wolf and a fox, had a close encounter with a very big rattle snake, drank filthy water from cattle ponds and did not eat any fresh food for days on end. I got to deeply appreciate the strength of early explorers and settlers, who traveled through this part of the country without maps, roads or sophisticated light gear like we now have. And I got to sleep close to the Earth night after night, listening to the sounds of the desert, mountains and forest, filling myself with a music that I know will ring in my heart for the rest of my life. For my first big wilderness hiking adventure, it has truly been amazing. I survived it for one (I haven't stepped on a scale yet but I haven't got an ounce of lard left on my body!) and met some incredible people along the way. I can't wait to heal my troubled ankle and get back into some other wild unspoiled place. I have been short of words to describe what I have experienced. It will take me a while to integrate it all, and bring the magic of the wild into my daily existence. Back in Silver City now, I am going to look for work in the next couple weeks...maybe seek a job with the Forest Service clearing the trails...
See slide show

October 28, 2008

Silver City Blues

After the high of the weekend, I woke up feeling depressed. As much as the conversations about community with my friends Jennie and Caiseal were great, I also felt that we were on slightly different wave length. I aspire to a life in or near a small town, where I can walk and bike at ease, where the pace is slow and people real. Silver City is giving me a taste of that. Sante Fe where they live is way too speedy and ritsy for me. Here, whether I go to the Cafe, the food Coop, the bike shop or the library, everyone is open and warm, and has time to have a conversation. Each day I spend here touches me in a special way and I am paying great attention. My community is so spread out-Seattle, Hawaii, Colorado, France. I feel torn as I soon will need to put my bag down and begin a new life, a new livelihood or creative endeavor. I cried with Erika over lunch, trying to express the tenderness that I feel in my being. Tomorrow I am taking off again. A 5-7 day hike was recommended to me by Jay who co-owns the Hike and Bike shop. I am all tanked up with food and feel ready to go reflect in the wild about what's next for me. Silver City shots

October 27, 2008

Jennie, Caiseal and Rowan's visit

Jennie, Caiseal and Rowan, along with their dogs Bela and Kalo, came down from Santa Fe for a 3 day visit. They brought me lots of real food like kale and goat cheese, as well as spare clothes for when I am in town. What a sweet and easy time we had! The nights were quite chilly up in the mountains, with frost and 15-20 degree temperatures. But camping next to the hotsprings made it easy to warm-up in the morning... We had many conversations about community, as we all aspire to live closer to the land. The pod has now returned to Santa Fe and I am preparing for another 6-7 day excursion into some of the most remote parts of the Gila. Silver City is still charming me with her slow pace and people warmth. I have been offered a place to stay and a bike to get around. I have gone to milk goats at the cooperative, taken a salsa class and attended several community potlucks. I like this place. It's being good to me.

October 22, 2008

Crossing the Gila towards Turkey Creek

Wow! I just spent 6 days and some 45 miles hiking across from the Alum Camp to the Turkey Creek Hotsprings, on trails that were sometimes barely visible or even plainly invisible because of being so rarely used. Of course I got lost a few times and found myself deep in canyons that I sometimes couldn't go through because of their clutteredness or steepness. Oh well, I just climbed back up and tried the next canyon, knowing that one of them would eventually lead to the main Turkey Creek, along which are some of the best (and hottest!) hotsprings around. I hiked Bushy mountains, came down to Turkey Park, Miller spring and then went off the map into a series of canyons, bushwacking and bouncing my butt through uncharted terrain, following both the water and my GPS reading to finally emerge at Turkey Creek, the most beautiful and friendly canyon in the Gila yet. The variety of vegetation in this short hike was outstanding, starting in pinon and ponderosa and ending up in elm, oak and cotton wood forest. I felt the most serene and content during this traverse, not encountering much big wildlife, but instead being gifted with the most astonishing and luscious colors of my whole journey. The creek level was low so the river crossings did not necessitate any change of shoes expect towards the end when the river gets bigger after merging into the Gila. I met a pair of old timers on their mules hunting elk and had a lovely chat with them while scratching the inside of the mules ears, which I know they love... I slept under the stars every night, cooked myself a hot lunch everyday (versus trail mix and energy bars as on the way down the Continental Divide) and really let the magical light of this place and season get deep into me. I knew before leaving Santa Fe that this place was calling me to heal me in a very special way. Even though my body aches from a still troublesome ankle and not sleeping well on my tiny mattress, my soul is pulsating with an innocence and joy that she hasn't felt for some time now. I give thanks to the Spirit guardians of this incredible sanctuary, and to the people who had the insight to preserve it untouched in 1926.
Foot bath

October 14, 2008

Silver City

This is my second time dropping down the valley to Silver City to get Internet, drink a soy latte, get a new book and get my fix of socializing! While eating my yogurt in front of the food co-op, Erika, an art student, approached me and asked me if I was a Continental Divide hiker. Upon my inquiring about nearby camping possibility, she invited me to stay at her house, as she had apparently previously done with other CDT hikers. My luck! She invited me to have dinner at a her friend Maria's house, a lovely young pregnant woman currently living near Oaxaca (Mexico) where her husband is finishing his PhD thesis on sustainable indigenous agriculture. Her own parents also live there and are part of a Catholic NGO helping local farmers preserve their ancestral agricultural tradition. The conversations were quite inspiring... I slept on the couch with Knox the dog who was snoring. I had dreams of being with a young and handsome Bill Clinton and then of being in a medieval city, in charge of coordinating the rules for screening incoming goods for quality. In the dream, a powerful storm was brewing and I witnessed a beautiful goddess-like figure reaching for the skies and weaving the clouds with her hands to modify the course of the storm. Fearing the destruction of the city by the storm, I fell to the ground and wept...and woke up. The skies in the early morning looked just like in the dreams, dark, low and menacing. But thanks to the goddess of the dream, it turned out to be a lovely and toasty day.
I mailed a deer antler I found in the woods, a bundle of bark from a lighting-struck elm tree (believed to hold power by the Apaches) and a handful of Juniper berries to my nephew Karim in Seattle. I had a danish pastriy, a kale omelet and coffee for breakfast, and fettucine Alfredo with green chile for lunch with more coffee and pastries. I browsed the bookstores all afternoon. It's lovely to be in this little town and the University library has free and fast Internet. Life is good!

October 13, 2008

Hiking the Gila Wilderness

I just spent 10 days exploring the Middle Fork and West Fork of the Gila river, as well as many side canyons. The place is mind-blowing in its beauty, bounty and diversity. The canyons are lush and moist to perfection, with huge oak, cottonwood and ponderosa trees, while the upper mesas are bone dry but rich in pinon and juniper trees, as well as prickly pear cactus. All the berries, wild grapes and nuts are ripe. I am having a feast! The other evening, I saw my first ever Great Horned Owl. She called me while I was hiking a small canyon near where I was camped and I spotted her within a minute. We looked at each other for a long while before she silently flew off into the forest. The hotsprings are many along the Gila river, and they have done wonders on my swollen ankle. It's almost back to normal now. I'm in Silver City, modifying my gear as the frost is here and the river crossings are many...
I am getting ready for another week of meandering through this astonishing 4 million acres preserve. I'll be heading to the Turkey Creek hotsprings and then back to the Gila hotsprings to rendez-vous with my beloved friend Jennie and her son Rowan who are coming from Santa Fe. I plan to mentor my 31/2 year-old little friend in the art of trout fishing!
I am in good spirit and getting much inspiration from this journey, as well as regaining my vitality and breathing with a lighter heart. With the sun setting around 7PM, I have read more books in a month than during the last entire year! So far I have read The Far Side of Paradise a biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Red Tent, A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway) and Letters from the Earth (Mark Twain).

Video clip 1 Thunder in the Canyons at night (turn your volume way up!)
Video clip 2 A luscious spring
Video clip 3 Hiking a side canyon
Video clip 4 Descending Little Bear Canyon towards the West Fork of the Gila river

October 3, 2008

Heading to the Hotsprings

My experiences hiking in the wilderness have been very few. I have travelled extensively and consider myself quite a road warrior, but ... off road?
Originally I wanted to go without a GPS so I would be faced with more challenges and further my experiment with doing without technology (so far the car, cell phone and laptop are gone).
Four times in two weeks, I got lost, one time bushwhacking through steep and dangerous canyons for 4 hours before I realized that my GPS compass had lost its calibration and was giving me an incorrect heading. In these moments, I felt quite vulnerable but also noticed that my vitality increased as my mind kicked into a fierce determination to find the trail again.The segment of the Continental Divide Trail that I hiked has very few water sources, with sometimes a distance of 15-20 miles between them, which means that one must walk that much in a day in order to drink and cook. With a limping pace, I often had to hike 8-10 hours a day to get to my next water hole, which could be a mere brown pond tainted by cow dung. I clogged my miniature water filter in one of the first such water spot but fortunately had a secondary source of water purification. After a long day hiking in the sun, drinking and cooking with such water involves a lot of faith!
But amidst the aches, thirst and hunger come the euphoric moments-reaching a mountain pass, finding a spring, catching a glimpse of a wild creature or reaching a little town after a week of not seeing one human being and sitting at a cafe, eating a good all-American breakfast (minus the bacon!) in the company of manly and sun-parched ranchers.
Being away from "civilization" with no time-table to re-enter its stream (rapids?) and no agenda but being with what is, is giving my energy the space to slowly unwind.
This process is often quite disconcerting for me as I can feel like a 14 year-old boy with not a concern in mind and the next moment panic as a middle aged man without a job, a home or money. I face hordes of societal and parental judgments and pressures as thick as the tenacious pygmy oak I sometimes have to fight through when I pass through a burnt-out forest. When my mind wanders in the past, I find myself engulfed in anger and resentment and have had to devise radical practices to reel in the inflamed energy. Walking with anger while surrounded by the most astonishing beauty and serenity has its comical side. The magic of being alone in a non-judgemental natural world is that one can let go into the pits of pathetic self-centeredness/indulgence and be instantly brought back to a vibrant reality by the screech of a red tail hawk or by an ant crossing one's path. Away from my common distractions and addictions I get to dismantle my hardened whole and make anew with the parts I like and love. I sing lullabies to my everyday reconstructed child and cherish him inside this decaying by still valiantly capable body. I contemplate the pain that I experience in my body and entangle the tight sinews of fear oppressing my breathing.
In that pain I often connect with my mother giving me birth and I feel humbled and remarkably thankfull.
At night, each warm spoonful of (dehydrated) black bean soup fills me with a nourishment that soothes the wound of not having been breastfed as an infant.
At dusk, exhausted, I kiss the ground and give thanks for this opportunity to be alive and commune with so many creatures, plants and rocks-all teachers and friends.
Everyday, I enter deeper into a community that has always been integral to the indigenous way of being, and I open wider to its gifts, lessons and healing.
I am grateful for my parents and my friends, and for this opportunity to be human in these strange but extraordinary times.
Today, I am heading back into the forest to find some hot springs and sit for a period of time. I spent two days in Silver City, NM, eating normal food (especially yogurt!), watching the VP debate and drinking a few delicious micro brews. I appreciate all that the city has to offer but I miss the softness of the trail and the soothing light of the forest. Slideshow

October 2, 2008

Out of the Woods

I don't know where to start to describe my 2 1/2 weeks adventure but I will say that I am in awe of those long distance hikers who do the entire 2,800 mile journey from Canada to Mexico, either on the Continental Divide Trail of the Pacific Coast Trail.
After two days my left ankle was aching so bad that I considered giving up and was having a terrible time facing the prospect of abandoning the journey.
I am glad I did not! I will write about the experience when I have a chance but for now I will leave you with these pictures. I encountered many creatures that I did not have time to photograph. A bear, a wolf, a coyotte, antelopes, mule deer, elks and birds of all kinds. I am heading inside the Gila Wilderness to camp near some remote hotsprings for a while. I need to nurse those feet.
I think these 250 miles of desert walk were a preparation for a deeper immersion into the wild forest and canyons of the Gila, home of Geronimo, one of my heroes...
More later.

September 11, 2008

The Day the Towers of Babel Crumbled

It's interesting that today Sept. 11 is the day I depart on my new journey. From Cuba, near Santa Fe, NM, I am heading south on foot on the Continental Divide Trail. I plan to hike slowly along the 250 mile route and get to the Gila Wilderness in about three weeks to a month.
It's interesting because in many ways my whole life has crumbled. It did not happen as suddenly as the twin towers, and as much as I am often tempted, I can't blame some "terrorists" for my situation.
Since November 2007, I have been going through a major deconstruction project. I let go of the project I had created and nourished for 4 years, the car, the cell phone, the laptop and have sold all my possessions. Last winter I went to Europe and North Africa to visit my relatives, and spent two months in Ghana, West Africa.
Upon my return in the Spring, and during parts of my walkabout, I felt strangely sick, wondering if I was having a reaction to vaccines, had caught an exotic bug or was just approaching the end of my life.
During many months of depression and anxiety, I got to reflect on many things, letting myself slow down, watching a crazy world unfold around me, and having a terrible time making sense of anything at all.
I always thoughts of myself as tough, capable, driven and inspired. Being in a state of lethargy, detachment, tiredness and disconnection from the world around me was by far the most difficult time of my life. My beloved ego took a beating as I meandered in feelings of worthlessness, anger, resentment and despair.
Having no responsibilities whatsoever, I let myself be, and faced a mind full of judgments and soon realized that I had become what my Mother feared the most for her children -a homeless and penniless 50 year- old man!
Unmotivated to "work" or participate in a world that made no sense to me, I began to rekindle with a desire to immerse myself in Nature to embrace my indigenous spirit.
So while visiting my beloved friend Jennie in Santa Fe, I began preparing for a new journey-into the wild. It took me six weeks to educate myself as to what equipment, food and topo maps I should take. My friend David Long, an expert long distance hiker, was of great help in encouraging me to go light, wear wool and sleep under the stars as much as possible!
For weeks I have been waking up with anxiety-what the heck am I doing going into the wild in mid-Sept, getting further in debt everyday and having no plan for the future? What am I doing going on a hike with a body that has been experiencing so much aches and weirdness in the past 8 months? What if my ankles, which have been quite troublesome for months, do not let me hike with a 35 lbs pack? Am I living in fantasy thinking that as a soft urban fellow I can survive in the wild in the winter? (I did watch the movie "Into the Wild" and will be extra careful as far as foraging for wild foods!).
Each day I prepared myself mentally, letting go of any rational thoughts and expectations, and surrendered to a new impulse-a call from the Mother.
So off we go!