the struggle is real

Friday’s permit attempt was denied. Shocker, I know. Tomorrow, I’ll find out about my apps for July 18-20, which most likely will also get denied. I’m not stressing yet, because these entry dates are already earlier than the ones I wanted, and I’m open to not starting in Yosemite at all if need be. Northbound is looking more appealing all the time, but I want to finish with Whitney.It’s worth trying as hard as I can—fortunately it’s not all that arduous, stone age technology not withstanding (fax? really?).

I hope that actually hiking the JMT is easier than getting a permit! It’s like applying to colleges over again. But a lot of people have gotten them (obviously, since all the slots are full). I’m not on a strict time table, and I’m pretty open minded about where I start. I wish I could attach an extra sheet with eight entry choices for each day instead of the three on the form. It’s a bit of a gamble: should I put my actual top three choices, or stake a bet on a less popular choice? I may mix it up a bit. The one point working in my favor is my solo status.

I’m very grateful to be in my current clear-headed mental space for this frustrating process. I’m able to take it in stride, and forgive my boasting but I’m damn proud of that. To be honest, it’s almost kind of fun, though I’ll be relieved when I finally know where I’m starting and can plot our an itinerary in earnest. Being in limbo, and coping with the unknown in general, is very tough for anyone and I’ve never been good at handling it. But I know I will be somewhere in the Sierras come August, come hell or high water (or low quotas). And that’s enough to keep my chin up.


the other boot drops

Yesterday, Yosemite officials dropped the new rules that had been rumored to be in the works. For late-July hopefuls, it was a bit of a doozy:

“To protect access for other hikers and preserve the quality of the JMT experience, Yosemite National Park is implementing an exit quota on an interim basis. The exit quota will help the park to address access and resource concerns until a comprehensive approach can be developed through the upcoming wilderness stewardship planning process. The interim quota will limit the number of hikers exiting the Yosemite Wilderness over Donohue Pass to 45 per day. The exit quota applies to all wilderness permits reserved or issued after February 2, 2015.”

Naturally—because that’s how my life works, I guess—February 3 was the day I had planned to submit my first permit application for a late July entry. Instead I found myself scrambling to put together a ranked list of strategically chosen start points last night, battling multiple printers, and praying a lot. The competition for today’s lottery will be stiff enough as it is, but it’s the last day before Monday to avoid the Donohue quotas. Many JMT Facebookers have reported three or more failed attempts at scoring permits before finally landing a sub-optimal entry point like Mono Meadow or Lyell Canyon, so I can only imagine what the new quotas will do to the odds.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe these restrictions are a good thing for the park. The increase in foot traffic over the past decade has been staggering. I just wish they’d at least given us a year’s notice so we had more time to plan alternative routes.

Chances are I won’t get any permit today and will have to face the narrowed quota system next week. Then again, it’s possible I’ll get my first choice: a passthrough permit from Happy Isles. Randomness means everything is possible. Hell, I may even score my first choice through hike after the Donohue restrictions go into effect. But the chances will drop from slim to slimmer. I’m not going to stop trying, and fortunately I have a flexible schedule and can start hiking any time within a 12-day window.

Northbound is an option. Other trailheads outside the park are options. In fact, the options are as expansive as the wilderness itself. I’m letting the Universe handle this one and trying not to stress too much, but that doesn’t mean I can curb my anticipation. Within the next few hours I should hear back about my first application. Crossing all my fingers and toes…

beyond satisfaction

On my 3.9-mile exploratory walk this morning, I forged a new loop that is destined to be a staple of my base fitness circuit. It turns out I love my new neighborhood even more than I thought. As I wound my way west I was blown away by how beautiful the residential streets were, how green with trees (even as the other side of the country suffers catastrophic snows). Then I turned to the north, where the Hollywood hills rose up like a crown in the middle distance. On my way south once more, I made my way past Melrose art galleries and the trendy juice bars of Larchmont Village. The weather could not have been more suited to walking. Suddenly it hit me that my life was better than it has ever been.

Things can turn around so fast. In November I was miserable. What’s changed? Even before I moved, the medication I’d started taking was beginning to work. Now it’s been seven weeks. But medication isn’t everything. Sticking with my recovery program and making it through the one-year mark has given me a boost too, especially since I’m making better friends on that pathway all the time. But moving into my own place—which I’ve wanted to do for years—kicked everything up a notch. Suddenly I wasn’t just content, I was ecstatic. I could scarcely keep my mouth shut today as I took in my new surroundings, wishing I suddenly had decades to absorb everything around me. To the local women out walking their dogs, I must have looked like a crazy person powering down the sidewalk, muttering, “I love my life. I’m so happy,” in genuine surprise.

I know this bright clean high won’t last forever. It’s another pink cloud, a shock of joy, a celebration of finally, finally being as independent as I’ve wanted to be since I was a small child. Things will level out and challenges are coming. But I can’t remember the last time I wanted to make each day last forever, yet felt so excited to see what happens next.


Living in my new apartment is every bit as satisfying as I expected (especially now that I figured out how to use my phone as a wi-fi hotspot—huzzah!). Somehow it’s both peaceful and thrilling. With a “new” couch and bed as the last pieces of the furniture puzzle, I’m finally phasing out of transition mode and back into regular life. It’s time to get to work.

With a new neighborhood to walk around in, I’ll be enjoying plenty of fresh scenery while my legs get stronger. So far, I’ve mostly been devoting my walks to exploring on foot—locating my new post office, library, supermarket and pharmacy as well as a seemingly endless array of eateries. Not exactly strenuous “training,” but walking is walking. To the west lie treelined residential roads studded with enormous houses—perfect for routine strolls—and a reasonable drive north takes me into the hills where I’ll feel more comfortable strapping on a backpack and getting some real workouts under my hip belt.

Today’s workout, though, consists of thoroughly cleaning my old apartment for the last time. Some serious elbow grease will be needed to scrub off the smudged prints my bare feet left behind on the wall where my desk once stood, and the space behind the fridge is sure to be a horror show. “Leave No Trace” indeed. Despite the guaranteed unpleasantness of the deep clean, it will definitely feel good when it’s complete.

Literally and figuratively, I’m in a good place. Next week comes the moment of truth: time to apply for my JMT permit! Whatever happens, I’ll just do the best I can and keep an open mind. Once I have some sort of permit in the bag, the reality of the undertaking will start to sink in. Bring it.

family ties

I just finished reading The Magic Island by the travel journalist and amateur anthropologist William Seabrook. I had never heard of Seabrook until my aunt caught the genealogy bug and discovered he was I in fact my great-great-uncle. The Magic Island recounts Seabrook’s adventures in Haiti, where he participated in voodoo sacrifice, dined with the President and climbed the island’s highest mountain, which the natives believed haunted by evil. He also travelled to Arabia and Africa and gained notoriety for his description of human flesh as tasting “like good, fully developed veal.” His experiment with cannibalism, like all his bold endeavors, stemmed from an insatiable curiosity about the world and all the ways humans have of living in it. For its time (1929), his treatment of Haitian culture is remarkably nuanced and open-minded, far less racist than I expected it to be, though still full of phrasing that would jar any modern reader.

Sadly, my adventurous ancestor shared not only my enthusiasm for exploration, but also my disposition towards depression and addiction. A contemporary of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Seabrook was also an alcoholic. His alcoholism drove him to commit himself to a mental facility and subsequently destroyed his marriage. In 1945 he committed suicide by overdose.

Seabrook came from a time when anthropology could still make for lurid and exciting reading. I’m impressed by his gift for description and his teasing narrative reveals. I’m proud to be a part of this writerly lineage, despite all the baggage that seems to come with it. It’s inspired me to try to capture more of my journeys in prose, from Bangladesh to the high Sierra. When I summit the highest peak in this country, I’ll think of Uncle William’s adventurous spirit and smile.

in limbo

I don’t have internet yet at my new apartment and won’t until February 2 (but hey, at least that’s in time to stream the new season of House of Cards). Limbo is not my favorite place to be, and this just hasn’t really been my week. Moving went fine, but my car’s stint in the shop has dragged out for days, and I’ve developed a mysterious sore throat with no other symptoms that I’m watching like a hawk. I’ve barely had time or energy to even think about the Muir Trail.

But things are coming together. I no longer think I’m actually sick, so regular walking has already resumed. Mostly I’m impressed with my ability to take all the chaos in stride. Transitions have always been big anxiety triggers for me, and right now nothing seems fixed in place. But somehow (aka medication and meditation), I’m able to keep my head above the fray and feel the big picture. Which is: I love my new place. My life is awesome. Even though my throat hurts and my sink is leaking and I miss my car and there are apparently only two urgent care centers that take my insurance within twenty miles, I’m happy. That bodes well for battling blisters, thunderstorms, mosquitoes and bears six months from now.

moving boxes

I haven’t been keeping up with my regular blogging this week—I’ve been packing, moving into my new place, and getting ready for a weekend out of town. But never fear, I have been getting plenty of exercise! My knees will be grateful for the stair climbs I’ve been doing, and lifting boxes full of books has given my arms some much needed work to do.

Every time I move—and hopefully this will be the final time for awhile—I try to toss out or give away as much as I can. But it’s hard. I get attached to everything from tattered high school track tees to the empty moving boxes themselves. One reason I find backpacking so satisfying is the feeling of liberation from the endless mountains of STUFF we first-worlders tend to accumulate without even trying. When every ounce counts and we pack up and move every day, we’re forced to make hard choices and identify our priorities. And when I’m in the wild, I don’t need things to feel fulfilled. I’m not even planning on bringing non-trail books on the JMT. There’s enough spiritual food out there.

Every time I get out on the trail I get the sense that this is how life is meant to be lived. Yet when I return to the city, all the trappings and clutter have magically become necessities once more. Funny, isn’t it?