A New Appreciation for Guo Fu

Annie Liu as Guo Fu in Return of the Condor Heroes 1983

Guo Fu is the Hate Sink in Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ. She’s not a villain – she’s loyal to her country and her family, she never actually murders anybody innocent (though she tries), and she never sexually assaults anybody. However, she is just about the most unlikeable character who is not a villain. She’s a spoiled brat, she has no humility, and she’s a bully.

Even though I’ve written a lot of other posts about Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ, I think I have hardly written anything about Guo Fu before (have I even mentioned her before on this blog?) That’s because I never had much to say. She’s not a total two-dimensional character in the original novel – there are nuances which suggest that Guo Fu is a complex human being (more so than, for example, Dolores Umbridge) – but there are so many other things going on in the novel which are so much more interesting that my attention never centered on Guo Fu’s character.

This is the most famous scene in the novel featuring Guo Fu (yes, she is the young woman with the sword). If you are okay with watching violence and spoiling the outcome of this scene, you can watch how the 1983 TV adaptation handles this scene.

The 1983 TV adaptation of Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ helped me see Guo Fu in a new light.

First of all, the scriptwriters gave Guo Fu a lot more screentime than she has pagetime (?) in the novel. They even added a whole new subplot to further develop her character. She actually grows and become less of a self-centered brat. Of course, just as in almost every other case where a female Jin Yong character experiences character growth, she does it so she can impress a man she has romantic feelings for, but it still makes her a more complex character.

And that brings me to another point – the scriptwriters make her a little more likeable than in the novel. She’s still spoiled, she’s still a bully, she still does all of the bad things which makes her a Hate Sink character, but she also has more in the way of redeeming qualities. In the novel, it makes sense that multiple men want to marry her because she’s beautiful and comes from a prestigious family, but in the TV show, it seems plausible that men may also want to marry her because they sincerely like her as a person. She even comes off as more charming than her sister Guo Xiang (partially because the Guo Xiang in this TV adaptation is lacking in warmth), which is the total opposite of the novel.

Guo Fu is on the left and her sister, Guo Xiang, is on the right.

There is one instance where, instead of adding to what is in the novel, the scriptwriters made an outright change. That is with regards to Guo Fu and Yang Guo’s relationship. In the novel, Guo Fu and Yang Guo were always in 100% agreement that they did not want to marry each other. When her father offers her hand in marriage, her reaction is much like her reaction in the 2006 TV adaptation, which you can see here.

Compare that to how Guo Fu reacts to Yang Guo refusal of the marriage proposal in the 1983 TV adaptation. She’s really upset. The scriptwriters built up to this moment by showing Guo Fu and Yang Guo having fun together, and showing Guo Fu really warm up to him. Here is an example of such a scene.

Though I like both the way this is done in the original novel and the way it’s done in the 1983 adaptation, I think I prefer the change made by the 1983 adaptation because a) it makes Yang Guo’s refusing Guo Fu’s hand in marriage more dramatic and b) it adds complexity to Guo Fu’s character and c) in some ways in makes more sense (though it other ways the novel makes more sense).

Guo Fu as seen in the opening theme song.

I think the scriptwriters did a lot to flesh out Guo Fu’s character – and then Annie Liu, the actress, took it and ran. She was a live wire. I’m surprised some reviewers consider Annie Liu to be a disappointing Guo Fu, since her performance is one of my favorite performances in the show. Apparently, some people do not like her because she’s not pretty enough. True, she’s not as physically beautiful as some of the other actresses who have played Guo Fu, and based on what’s I’ve seen of the 1995 adaptation, Gigi Fu also did a great job playing Guo Fu, but a) Annie Liu is pretty enough and b) beauty is far from the most important aspect of Guo Fu’s character and c) Annie Liu really brought Guo Fu to life, at least for me.

I never imagined that Guo Fu would be one of the highlights of a TV adaptation Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ, but it is so. And this is one of the reasons I watch adaptations instead of simply re-reading the novel – a good adaptations bring out aspects of the story I had not appreciated before.


Sara, you’re doing it wrong, you stopped using toilet paper!

That’s right, I’ve stopped using toilet paper (errr, for the most part). Obviously, that is wrong.

For a long time I’ve been vaguely aware that manufacturing toilet paper kills a lot of trees and uses a lot of water, but actually looking at the statistics, it’s worse than I thought (i.e. I got it wrong). Apparently, manufacture of toilet paper is one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in the United States, and not only does it require a lot of water, but the water is much more polluted after it has been used to process toilet paper than before. You can do research on the environmental impact of toilet paper yourself, but the TL;DR is: people who use toilet paper are evil cartoon villains who wreck ecosystems, harm future generations, and can make an awesome cackling sound.

Of course, the ~right way~ to show one’s concern about the environmental impact of toilet paper is to switch to recycled toilet paper so no trees die, at least according to a lot of websites such as “Green Living Tips”. Oh, but recycled toilet paper tends to contain even more toxic chemicals than toilet paper made from virgin fiber. Should one subject oneself to more toxic chemicals to save some trees, or should one let the trees die to protect oneself from toxic chemicals? Apparently, one could solve this dilemma by using toilet paper made from sugarcane or bamboo instead of from trees, or checking that the recycled toilet paper was processed without chlorine, or something.

I suppose a good consumer would do their due diligence, research all of this stuff (because, you know, good consumers have unlimited time and energy for all this because they don’t have jobs, social relationships, or fun hobbies), and make sure they were making the most ethical and healthiest choice when buying toilet paper, no matter how inconvenient or expensive. But I’m a bad consumer, which means instead of trying to find a boutique store which sells expensive fair-trade-organic-locally-manufactured-sugarcane toilet paper, I decided to just stop using toilet paper. Like I said, I’m doing this wrong.

But to be honest, I did not stop using toilet paper purely out of concern for the environment. I have a confession to make: I don’t like toilet paper. Wrong, I know.

Even when I’m being careful, I often got bits of feces directly on my hands when I use toilet paper, and little bits of toilet paper often got lodged in my butt, which fester there until I take a shower and can wash them out. Speaking of which, toilet paper never fully cleaned my butt of feces, which is why, along with those bits of festering toilet paper, I often washed out more bits of feces when I took showers. In Taiwan, I had a bathroom setup which make it easy for me to rinse out my butt after I used the toilet, but in my home in San Francisco, I can’t do that without actually taking a shower, so until I stopped using toilet paper, between I defecated and when I took a shower, there was still quite a bit of residue of feces riding on my skin. It turns out that it’s not just me – this newspaper article also says that toilet paper is a bad way to clean up feces. I know, it’s wrong to admit all this publicly.

The right way to stop using toilet paper is to use a bidet instead. 93.482% of all articles on the internet about switching away from toilet paper tell you to use a bidet, because that’s what civilized people in Japan/France/India/Italy/Greece use, and if you don’t switch to a bidet you are a barbaric American/Brit/Australian and all of the civilized people from those civilized countries will think you are gross and make fun of you. Though they will say that Canadians are okay even if they don’t use bidets, because Canada. And they say/think nothing about Kiwis because they don’t know that New Zealand exists.

Second confession: I have used bidets, and I don’t like them either. I think this blog post already has too much information, so I will just express my opinion that I feel that the results using a bidet (probably because I am using the bidet wrong) are unsatisfactory (I found the bathroom setup I had in my apartment in Taiwan – which was not a bidet – to be much more satisfactory). Obviously, I am a barbaric American who has earned the mockery of civilized people.

That said, my family (until recently) were not just in an American level of barbarism – we were in a Taiwanese level of barbarism – we put used toilet paper in the bin, not the bowl (though our used toilet paper eventually made its way to compost, not landfill) . We put toilet paper in the bin for a similar reason the Taiwanese do it – plumbing issues. Yep, we were doing it wrong by adapting to the limitations of our plumbing system rather than spend lots of money and enduring lots of stress trying to change the plumbing.

(I have read various tracts by non-Taiwanese about how the Taiwanese habit of putting toilet paper in the bin is so ‘unsanitary’ and is ‘bad manners’ but instead of presenting scientific evidence of how Taiwanese practices help spread disease or cause more environmental damage than putting toilet paper in toilet bowls, their argument seems to be that it goes against their own non-Taiwanese cultural norms, and thus the Taiwanese are wrong.)

I have stopped using toilet paper the wrong way: I’m now using pieces of fabric to wipe myself after I use the toilet. Specifically, I am re-using the same pieces of fabric over and over again. That THAT, you snotty bidet-using elitists (and I bet you don’t clean all of that snot in your noses with your precious bidets). Pieces of fabric which are used and re-used to clean butts are called ‘family cloth’.

The right way to start using family cloth is to cut up old worn-out fabric goods, such as a shirt you would never wear again. This undeniably is very cheap (as in, costs no moeny) and very eco-friendly (you don’t waste resources making new fabric and you keep old fabric out of the landfill). Of course, I switched to family cloth the wrong way, that is to say, I bought brand-new family cloth. I bought a packet of organic linen ‘toilet paper’. This proves that I am a coastal millennial hipster elitist, which is wrong. Meanwhile, that store seems to be run by mid-westerners who practice an obscure form of Christian fundamentalism which tries to follow the rules of the Torah (though I am not sure of this), which is also wrong (they take Leviticus 19:19 seriously, so vegans can trust them not to slip wool into the linen fabric).

a square piece of linen cloth

This is what my family cloth looks like. I have 15 pieces. I don’t need all of them, so some of them have not been used yet, though I may find a use for them in the future.

When I was doing research on family cloth, every website said that one would clean them by putting them in the washing machine, just like cloth diapers. The people who wrote this articles/blog posts assumed that all of their readers ~have~ washing machines. Once again, I’m doing this wrong – the building where I live has no washing machine. Furthermore, I don’t want to run to the laundromat every time I need to clean a piece of family cloth (especially since that would require a lot of quarters).

So I clean them the wrong way – in a sink, by hand. This is what my process looks like (for poo, not for pee):

1. Immediately after use, I put the soiled piece in a container stored in the toilet room (like many older buildings in San Francisco, the toilet is in a different room than the bathroom).
2. Once a week, I take all of my soiled pieces, and rinse them in a tub that fits in the sink, and then pour out the rinse water. This gets rid of most of the feces.
3. I put in clean water and some baking soda, and let it soak for at least 10 minutes. After the baking soda treatment, the family cloth has no odor I can detect. Then I pour out the baking-soda-water.
4. I put in some more clean water, and add a few drops of liquid castille soap, agitate, and pour out the water.
5. I wring the family cloth pieces, and they put them somewhere to dry. However, if they are still wet when I need to use them, that’s okay too.

I’m probably doing this wrong, so if you do use family cloth, just wash them any way you want.

Oh, and for pee, I use a separate piece of family cloth (a ‘pee rag’). I just rinse it out quickly after each use, just before I wash my hands. This is enough to prevent them from stinking. When I am going to the laundromat anyway, I also throw the pee rag into my wash load (though I do not throw in the pieces of family cloth I use for poo into my general wash load).

I also now keep a spray bottle full of water in the toilet room. I spray my butt before I wipe (it works much better than a bidet, in my experience). This knocks off the biggest bits of feces, and the wetness helps the family cloth clean more effectively.

However, I’m not an organic-linen-family-cloth purist, which means I’m doing it wrong. When I use a bathroom away from home, I use the toilet paper that is provided. Shortly after I started doing hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), I converted to using wet wipes instead of toilet paper. Though I considered taking family cloth on my current PCT hike, I decided to go with the tried-and-true wet wipes instead – which is wrong. Wet wipes are also terrible for the environment, though at least I don’t flush them down toilets and I use a brand which is compostable and made from not-so-toxic chemicals.

Following in my footsteps in going away from toilet paper would be wrong.

Of course, as you may have noticed by now, no matter what you do to clean yourself after you pee or poo, someone in the world thinks you’re doing it wrong. So just do what you want. (As far as sanitation goes, handwashing ~after~ you clean your butt is much more important than ~how~ you clean your butt).

If you want to do what I do, great, we can do it wrong together. If you want to convert to the School of Wet Wipes for Everypoop Use, you can do that. If you want to use a bidet, you can do that. If you want to use recycled toilet paper, you can do that. If you want to use toilet paper made from sugarcane or bamboo, you can do that. If you want to use quadruple-ply scented toilet paper made from virgin tree fiber because you think the world needs more deforestation, you can do that. If you want to use a sponge on a stick dipped in vinegar, you can do that. If you want to find in a thrift store a shirt featuring the logo of a brand you hate, buy it, cut it up, and then wipe your butt with that, you can do that (this idea was inspired by Linda Tirado). If you want to find a plant with large, broad leaves, tear off the leaves, and use the leaves to wipe your butt, you can do that. If you just want to use whatever is most convenient, you can do that.

It’s your butt, and if you are lucky enough to be able to defecate in privacy, you can clean it however you want, without anybody else knowing how you do it.

The Stehekin Fiasco & Miracle

My tent at Purple Point Campground, Stehekin, Northern Washington.

Of all of the places on the Pacific Crest Trail to miss a resupply package, Stehekin is just about the worst. On lists of ‘PCT resupply stops to mail food even if you hate mailing food’ Stehekin always makes it to the top three, including in the 2017 PCT thru-hiker survey. There is no grocery store in Stehekin, just a general store with very limited options, and a bakery with few foods which can be easily carried on the trail.

AND I’m vegan, which means ~even fewer~ options at the general store, and the only food at the bakery which was definitely vegan was the wild rice salad (it tasted good, but I could not easily take it with me on the trail).

My resupply package never reached Stehekin. Why not? Because I had ordered it from Sonora Resupply, and they literally forgot to send the package (but they did remember to charge my credit card, though they eventually refunded it). Beware: if you order food from Sonora Resupply, they might forget to send it. I had set things up so that my parents would never need to send me any resupply packages to save them the hassle, but in the future, I am going to ask my parents to handle my resupply packages, because they are more reliable than Sonora Resupply, and since they know about the Stehekin fiasco, they are very willing to take on this responsibility.

The post office in Stehekin, Washington. The postmaster had a letter from my parents (which contained the maps showing the trail between Stehekin and Canada) and he arranged to have a book I bought in Stehekin to be shipped home, but there was no resupply box for me here.

Due to the lack of communication options in Stehekin (no cell phone or landline service to Stehekin, and internet connections either did not exist or were so bad that it was almost the equivalent of no internet) it took me a day to confirm that Sonora Resupply had never even sent the resupply package. But really, as soon as I talked to the postmaster, and he told me that he had no package for me, I knew that the odds were bad.

This was my very worst time during my entire hike of the PCT in Washington. Contemplating crossing about 85

I remember talking to Pony Express, and I was crying a little as I was facing the possibility of no resupply. She immediately offered to give me all of her tortillas. This was in spite of the fact that she was having a worse day that I was – her toe was infected, and she was going south, not north, which meant she was about to enter one of the most physically sections of the entire Pacific Crest Trail (incidently, Pony Express is working on a documentary about her PCT hike – check it out).

At first, I thought I might have to stop in Mazama to resupply. I could get to Mazama after hiking about one day out of Stehekin, though it would involve hitchhiking on a highway, and though Mazama has more food options than Stehekin, it’s also not a particularly good resupply point. Then I figured that, if I were willing to pay the expensive prices (which were actually quite reasonable considered how remote Stehekin is), I could get enough food at the general store to make it to Canada. It would be repetitive and not particularly tasty or nutritionally balanced, but it would keep me alive, and in Canada I could get lots of tasty and nutritionally balanced food.

Then the miracle happened.

Just after the conversation (via satellite phone) which confirmed that there was going to be no resupply package for me in Stehekin, a couple was putting their entire resupply package in the hiker box. It turned out that they didn’t want ANY of the food that they had mailed themselves. I immediately picked out all of the vegan food (they had some oreos, some Bevita crackers, electrolyte powders which also had vitamin C and random minerals, and weird banana chips which I didn’t really like but it was food, and a Harmony House dehydrated vegetable meal). Also, there were more tortillas, though I don’t know if they had come from the couple. It wasn’t my first choice of food, but it was free, and it would get me to Canada.

This completely changed my mood. Whereas just twenty minutes earlier I had been on the verge of tears, I was now skipping with joy, and sharing with every hiker I saw the good news of the couple who had dumped their entire resupply in the hiker box. Since the other hikers were not vegan, they all descended on the hiker box like a wake of vultures to take the food I rejected.

Later on, I checked the hiker box again, and found that someone had left an entire bottle of olive oil. WIN. Olive oil is lightweight yet super-high in calories, and required no cooking. Calories were the one thing I needed from food to get to Canada.

The ferry docked at Stehekin Landing. Stehekin is a very quiet little town UNLESS the ferry has just arrived or is about to depart (warning: do not try to buy anything in the general store right after a ferry arrival or right before a ferry departure). All mail to/from Stehekin is transported by ferry, including the letter I received from my parents and the book I sent out.

I also bought some Clif bars and wasabi peas from the general store, mainly so that I would have a bit more protein. I didn’t really need the protein – I could get protein in Canada (and the only thing I needed to get to Canada was calories) – but it was nice to have more protein.

Many PCT thru-hikers eat tortillas as a staple because they are cheap and easy to find in trail towns, which means that by the time many thru-hikers get to Stehekin they hate tortillas (which is no doubt why I was able to get so many tortillas for free). Since I hadn’t eaten any tortillas before Stehekin, I thought they were alright. And tortillas went very well with olive oil.

Thus, for the last leg of the PCT, tortillas and olive oil were my staples (plus random snacks such as oreos and wasabi peas). I would eat a bite of tortilla, take a sip from the olive oil bottle, take another bite of tortilla, take another sip, etc. And yes, I drank the olive oil straight from the bottle, since that was the easiest way to get it into my body. POUR IN THOSE CALORIES!!! Though I was eating to live rather than living to eat, I think the tortilla + olive oil combo also tasted good.

I even managed to reach Canada with leftover food. Which was just as well, since that meant that I spent less money on food while I was stuck in Manning Park (though I also totally took advantage of the restaurant in Manning Park to eat food that was tasty and nutritionally balanced and was prepared fresh in a real kitchen).

The moral of the story is: things can fail to go according to plan in a bad way on the Pacific Crest Trail, yet the trail sometimes provides in surprising ways just when you need it.

Agua Dulce and Santa Clarita Memories

I’m in Agua Dulce as I write this (which is not the same time as when I am posting this – yay scheduled posts!). I got back on the Pacific Crest Trail at Tehachapi Pass / Highway 58, and hiked all the way here (Tehachapi Pass -> Agua Dulce is 112 miles / 175 kilometers).

Even though I was born in California, and lived my entire life in California until I graduated from college, I never went to Southern California at all before the age of 15. As far as I was concerned, Southern California might as well have been a different state, just like Oregon (which I had visited before the age of 15).

Then, when I was 15, I went to Southern California for the first time, and spent four weeks in Santa Clarita. It was the first time in my life I had been separated from both of my parents at the same time by hundreds of miles. It was the only time in my life that I stayed in a school dorm. My few couple times visiting the city of Los Angeles were day trips out of Santa Clarita.

I remember the mountains I could see from Santa Clarita. When I went to eat meals, I would glance out the windows at the mountains, pondering them. I especially remember going out at night and watching the mountain burn (there was a wildfire). I (mistakenly) thought they were the Tehachapi mountains.

At the time, I had no idea that the Pacific Crest Trail existed, let alone that it went through those mountains or that I would ever hike on it. Now I know those mountains are not the same as the Tehachapi mountains because I have now hiked through both ranges. It is good to be back in this area, and to finally get to know those mountains I pondered as a teenager with the soles of my feet.

Self-Feeding on the Washington Pacific Crest Trail

One of the most common questions I would get when I was on my Pacific Crest Trail hike in the summer of 2017 was ‘what do you eat?’ Many people who did not know I was vegan asked me this question, but if I revealed that I was vegan, this question became even more likely to pop up.

Though it is possible to live off the land, there are two major problems a) time/energy invested in gathering food from the land is time/energy which is not devoted to moving forward and b) the lands surrounding the Pacific Crest Trail cannot produce nearly enough food to support all of the humans who are passing through. This is ignoring the issue that most hikers do not even know how to get enough food from the land, since if the problem were merely a lack of skills, skills could be acquired. Furthermore, there are often restrictions on gathering food on the land (for example, there is one section of the Washington PCT where only the local indigenous people are permitted to pick berries). Therefore, hikers need to carry all of the food they need to sustain themselves.

Okay, so practically all food needs to be packed. The next question is: mail drop, or buy in town? I had been advised that food options were limited at all of the resupply points in Washington, so I arranged a mail drop for every town. For my training hike in the CA-R section of the PCT, I was coming almost straight from home, so I just brought the food with me to Seiad Valley. What about my first Washington segment, between Cascade Locks (OR) and Trout Lake (WA)? At the Ashland Food Coop, I bought a lot of trail food, and then supplemented it with a few things I picked up at a Trader Joe’s in Portland.

That’s not to say that I only ate mail-dropped food after I left Trout Lake. I deliberately put at little less food than I needed in each food package because I knew I would be able to supplement my food supply at each town, and I wanted a little flexibility in my trail food options. I also took advantage of the hiker boxes, sometimes picking up weird food items which added variety to my diet, or sometimes just adding free food. When I was at the Dinsmores, there was no way to buy food (without getting a ride to another town), but the hiker box had all of the food I needed, and there were tons of ripe blackberries on the bushes to satisfy my craving for fresh fruit.

Yep, fresh fruit was the #1 food I craved in southern Washington. For obvious reasons, it hard to take fresh fruit for more than a day on a 5-7 day hike between towns. That meant that, when I did reach a town, one of the first things I did was get fruit. When I arrived in White Pass, and I saw that they had a few fresh oranges, I told the woman behind the counter “I am buying all of those orange right now, whatever the price.”

However, in central and northern Washington, it was prime berry-picking season, and those berries really took care of my fruit cravings on trail. They were delicious, and no doubt very good for my health. It was also a great excuse to stop hiking on a steep uphill section. I eventually became a huckleberry connoisseur, able to judge how good a huckleberry would taste based on looking at it. The most delicious huckleberries were along Agnes Creek, though that might have been because I was there at the right time.

Mmmm … tasty wild huckleberries.

That still leaves the question of what I ate (aside from berries). When I was planning my trip, I was aware of the problem of hikers getting tired of their food, and not being able to stand the food in their maildrops. I tried to prevent this problem by putting different types of food in each resupply box. Another principle I had was to never send regular Clif Bars. A lot of hikers complained that they ate so many Clif bars that they never wanted to eat any ever again. I also knew that Clif bars were more likely to be available in the Washington towns than most other kinds of trail foods, so that was one particular food I did not want to risk becoming sick of (this was the right choice; I did in fact buy some Clif bars in the towns of Washington, and I managed to not get sick of them).

My favorite resupply box was the box I sent to Trout Lake. It was full of superfood Larabars (which were different from the ordinary Larabars I had bought on sale in Ashland), Indian dal mix, coconut dessert things (coconut + sugar = lots of calories), ProBar energy chews, and good stuff like that. I still has nutritional yeast left over from my resupply in Ashland/Portland, so I was doing okay with protein too. Later on, I almost wished I had a repeat of my ‘Trout Lake Box’ – I say almost because, if all of my food drops had been the same, I might have gotten tired of the food, and then it would have been much less tasty.

At this point, you might have already figured out that I went stoveless AND I was not using campfires for cooking. I did consider bringing a stove – I have used a backpacking stove in Taiwan and Japan – but what ultimately convinced me to go stoveless was that I did not want to deal with the logistics of stove fuel. I have no regrets, and I think all of my PCT section hikes will be stoveless, because I did not miss hot meals at all (it may have helped that it was a very warm summer by Washington standards).

My resupply box in White Pass had my first set of freeze-dried dehydrated meals (actually not – I had picked up a few dehydrated meals in Ashland because they were relatively cheap and different from the ones I knew I had in my resupply boxes), along with some Clif Builder bars (not the regular Clif bars). I also supplemented it with some food from White Pass. How did I prepare them without hot water? COLD SOAK FOR THE WIN! I found that 1-2 hours of soaking was enough for just about any dehydrated meal, but leaving it to soak overnight was the best.

By far the most popular brand of dehydrated meals specifically for outdoor activity is Mountain House. However, they have almost no vegan options. I guess they don’t want money from vegan people. So I sent a lot of meals from the second most popular brand, Backpacker’s Pantry, which has lots of vegan options. Even though Backpacker’s Pantry is the #2 brand, I found that a lot of outdoor people have never heard of it. Huh. But my White Pass resupply had some dehydrated meals from an obscure business – Camp Chow. They were expensive, but I figured it would change things up.

I LOVED the veggie gumbo from Camp Chow – it’s expensive, but so good. I HATED the chili. In fact, their chili gave me indigestion so bad that it interfered with my hiking, I vomited, and I gave away my other package chili as fast as I could.

Anyway, back to Backpacker’s Pantry. I took 5 different Backpacker’s Pantry Meals with me. My favorite to least favorite were:

1. Cuban Black Beans & Rice
2. Chana Masala
3. Kathmandu Curry
4. Mexican Cowboy Beans & Rice
5. Louisiana Red Beans & Rice

All of these meals were variations of legumes & rice, which works really well for me as cold soak dehydrated meals. Legumes + rice are a complete protein. I also never got tired of any of these, though on my current PCT hike, I’m only taking the top three (plus some dehydrated meals from an obscure business for variety, and a couple of Backpacker’s Pantry meals I haven’t tried before).

Though I generally liked my food (with the notable exception of that chili from Camp Chow), while I was hiking the PCT in Washington, I ate to live, I did not live to eat. A lot of hikers obsess about food on the trail. Me? I was obsessed with water, and to a lesser extent finding good campsites. Food was an afterthought. Eating was a chore I did because I knew if I did not eat, I would not have enough energy. Also, eating snacks was a good excuse to take a break, and would also lighten my pack, which were more compelling reasons to eat food than my own appetite.

This was pretty much how I ate until I reached Stehekin. In Stehekin, it all changed. That’s the topic of the next post.

Sewing a Tarp by Hand Is Like Walking across the Entire State of Washington on Foot

This is a picture of my tarp in my backyard during the seam-sealing.

When I started becoming concerned about the materials used in tents I eventually found myself falling into the blackhole which is known as ‘MYOG’ – Make Your Own Gear. I started working on a tarp, then quit that so I could make a quilt (which will get its own post), and after finishing the quilt went back to work on the tarp.

The thing is, at the time, I didn’t have a sewing machine (I happened to get a sewing machine just days after I finished the tarp, but oh well). So the tarp was sewn by hand.

Warning: sewing a tarp by hand TAKES FOREVER!!!!!!!!

To sew my tarp, I used the design described in The Ray-Way Tarp Book by Ray Jardine. Yep, it’s a Ray-Way tarp. I considered buying one of Ray Jardine’s tarp kits, but decided against it because a) it’s cheaper to buy the materials separately than to buy the kit and b) I wanted to use silpoly, and the kits come with silnylon.

Why silpoly? Because I made this tarp specifically with my Southern California PCT hike in mind. In Southern California, one often wants to take a siesta between 1 pm and 4 pm, yet it is sometimes difficult to find adequate shade. Thus, I want something which can provide shade, not just serve as a shelter from rain/snow (of course to use the tarp for shade I’d need a somewhat flat area which is free of thorny plants, but that is easier to find in the SoCal PCT than natural shade). Silnylon degrades relatively quickly when exposed to UV rays, so I would not want to leave it in the sun for hours. Silpoly degrades so slowly under UV exposure that it doesn’t matter, so it’s a much better material for a shade tarp. I know that the specific silpoly material I used is not the best for waterproofness, but I only need a tarp which can handle occasional rain/snow, not a tarp which can withstand several days of severe nonstop rain. Thus, silpoly wins.

Why the brown color? First of all, since it’s a dark color, it will provide more shade than a light color. Second, black stands out too much, whereas brown blends better into the scenery. Third, it does not look like a flower (unlike my palace which has orange panels that sometimes attract bees/hornets/hummingbirds). Finally, this color was on sale, so I saved a few dollars.

Did I mention that I sewed this by hand? I used backstitches for everything because the backstitch is the strongest of the hand-stitches. Maybe it’s even stronger than a machine straight stitch.

Another picture of my tarp in the backyard during the seam sealing.

What I found is that trying to sew a camping/backpacking tarp by hand is like trying to walk across the entire state of Washington by foot. First of all, using a sewing machine would have been way faster, just as pretty much any other common mode of transit (bike, train, bus, car, airplane, boat) would have been a much faster way to get from Oregon to British Columbia than travelling by foot. Sometimes, when sewing the tarp, I was overwhelmed by how much more sewing I had left ahead of me, just as at times I was overwhelmed by the idea of having to walk another 400 miles or whatever. Yet if you keep at it, one stitch at a time, or one step at a time, one will reach the goal. Just as I had to mentally break up my long walk across Washington into chunks (no, I’m not going all the way to Canada, I’m just going to that tiny town which is thirty miles ahead), I had to mentally break up the sewing into chunks (I’m just trying to sew this one seam, okay, not an entire tarp).

One advantage of making this tarp entirely by hand (well, okay, I didn’t make the materials by hand) is I will now be very skilled at repairing tarps (and tents, since the same skills I developed by making this tarp could also be used to repair a tent). I almost always carry a small sewing kit when I travel, which is all I need for a hand-sewn repair (unless it’s a repair which requires sealant, but the very small risk that I might need the sealant for a repair does not justify carrying it).

Of course, one major difference being going on a long walk and sewing a tarp is that sewing is a lot more monotonous. When I’m on a long walk, unless it’s a zero day, I’m somewhere different every day. Meanwhile, while sewing the tarp, I was sewing the same stitch over and over again, making the same type of seam, using the same materials. I would have been bored out of my mind – if I were not listening to interesting audio while I was sewing.

What did I listen to? A few different things. Sometimes I listened to a song or two (especially at the beginning of a sewing session), on Martin Luther King Jr. day I listened to a couple of MLK speeches, I listened to Bi Any Means Podcast #133: Atheism and Asexuality with Emily Karp, but mostly I binged on two podcasts – Sounds of the Trail and Trailside Radio. I managed to listen to the entire archive of both of those podcasts while I was sewing my tarp (and my quilt, but trust me, the quilt took a lot less time to sew), which gives you an idea of just how much time it takes to sew a tarp by hand. Those two podcasts were two of the best things I could have listened to during my sewing, since they talk a lot about what it is like to hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, and they reminded me why I was sewing my tarp.

However, after SEWING FOREVER, I did the seam sealing, and then my tarp was finally finished. Even though I did not quite follow the instructions (there was no way I was going to be able to do the seam sealing in a place without wind, for example), the sealing turned out okay. That said, if I ever make another tarp or a tent, I’m going to choose fabrics which are compatible with seam tape, since I think I’d rather iron on seam tape than mess with silicone sealant again.

The final weight (including guylines and seam sealing) is 15 oz. / 0.43 kg. Yes, I made it a 2-person tarp, because my experience with camping is that, even as a solo person, it’s better to use a 2-person shelter, and it’s only a few extra ounces.

Before taking this tarp out on a long trip, I wanted to test it. So I did. On the night of February 28, I went out to Point Reyes, hiked to Glen Camp, and spent the night there. It was perfect timing, since that was the rainiest night we’ve had all year so far, in was about 40-42 degrees F / 5 degrees Celsius, I was in a forest miles from the nearest parking lot (or house), and I was the only human at the campground, and I was WARM AND DRY HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!! There is something very satisfying about being in a shelter you made yourself, cloaked with a quilt you sewed yourself, on a cold and rainy night, and it being enough. That said, since I was in the forest and not at one of the ocean-side campgrounds, I did not have a problem with wind – that could have ruined my night.

Sadly, my camera malfunctioned, which is why I don’t have any photos of my tarp at Point Reyes. Oh well, I have the memories. And if you want a video of a different Ray-Way Tarp in the rain, there is this video.

This is what my tarp looks like from below, in my backyard (when I’m in the backcountry and not in my backyard, I’ll be more careful to pitch it in places where I won’t be disturbing tender green plants).

One of the various reasons I want to at least try using a tarp for a while is that a lot of people say that it changes one’s relationship with the environment. A tent seals one off from the environment, whereas a tarp lets the environment in. Tents hide you (and provide privacy!) while not letting you see what’s around you, whereas tarps do the opposite. Do not get me wrong, I like the sealing effect of tents, if I’ve been in the backcountry for days I like being able to withdraw into my own cocoon and and take a break from being ‘outside’. It can be an important psychological comfort. But I think I’m ready to live without that comfort, at least in areas which do not have bug problems. I definitely felt the effect of still having a decent view of the (dark) forest while I was under my tarp, and I’m glad I tested it on a night when I had the campground to myself and privacy was not an issue (it is very rare to be alone at local campgrounds, so on future local camping trips I will probably still use my Taiwanese tent).

While I was hiking back to the bus stop at Point Reyes, I met various people going the other way (including one guy who was going to stay overnight at Glen Camp). They noted that I had gone camping on a particularly rainy night, and I said that I did it to test my new ‘tent’. One conversation went like this:

Person: So you could return it if it didn’t work.
Me: Actually, I can’t return it because I made it.
Person: ???!!!!
Me: I mean, because I made it myself, I couldn’t read online reviews to find out whether or not it works in the rain. And there’s no warranty. Though I can repair it myself.
Person: Wow.

One of the park rangers asked me to email pictures because she had never even heard of anyone making their own camping shelter before. I ate lunch at the Kule Loklo, where I met another park ranger. She was also impressed that I had made my own tarp and was ‘self-reliant’. I replied that I wasn’t as self-reliant as the Miwok people had been before Europeans came, and the ranger replied ‘very few people in the modern world are as self-reliant as they were’.

At the time this post is scheduled for publication, I’m hopefully in the middle of my Southern California Pacific Crest Trail hike, with this very tarp. I probably will only deal with rain/snow for a few nights at most, and will be using this tarp for shade more than anything else, but who knows. Actually, I got a chance to test the tarp in a snowstorm and I am not hiking at the time this post is published.

This is also the 500th post published on this blog. Writing 500 blog posts definitely takes way more time than even sewing a tarp by hand, though at least I spread the blog-writing time out over years.

This is the first time I spent a night outdoors in the middle of a snowstorm

I started this trip. My first day on the trail, when I left Walker Pass, the weather was great for hiking.

A view near Walker Pass, March 16, 2018.

There were various small snow patches near the trail, which added character to the landscape (and also meant that I had an emergency water source). There were even a few places where there was snow on the trail, but only for very short segments.

This was one of the bigger snow patches I saw near the trail on the first day, though as you can see, the trail itself was clear.

In the middle of the day, I reached McIvers Cabin. I gathered water and ate lunch. I was the only human there.

McIvers Cabin on March 16, 2018

About two miles beyond McIvers Cabin, it was pretty much all pine forest until I reached my campsite, though I did get this one dramatic view into a desert valley.

Looking down a valley all the way into the desert on March 16, 2018.

I set up camp pleased with myself. I had a good day of hiking, and it seemed that my journey to Tehachapi (my first resupply) would be straightforward. But I did not want to overtax myself on the first day, and there were a few clouds in the distance which made me feel slightly uneasy. Furthermore, since I am new to using tarp shelters (yes, I am experimenting with using a tarp instead of a tent) I wanted extra time to set it up. Thus, I decided to set up camp a little earlier in the afternoon than I usually would.

And there is my camp, featuring my new tarp.

The next morning, my camp looked like this:

My camp on the morning of March 17, 2018.

It snowed several inches that night. In spite of the fact that I was using a tarp instead of a tent, and it was quite windy, I managed to stay dry and warm during the night. Actually, the snow helped with the wind problem – if you look at the right side of that photo, you can see that the snow piled up on that side as it slid off the roof of my tarp, and formed a little wall that blocked the wind.

Here is another view of my camp (you can find my tarp on the bottom-right).

Oh, and remember that desert valley? This is what it looked like in the morning.

The valley which looked so dry the previous day is now blanketed with snow.

When I saw the valley, I knew it was time to get off trail. The snow had clearly fallen at an elevation much lower than my own, which meant that the entire trail, even the lower part, was probably covered with several inches of snow. That could mess up navigation. Even if I could figure out where the trail was 97% of the time, that 3% where I could not figure out the trail might be enough to get me in serious trouble.

The trail, covered with snow.

I was actually surprised how easy it was to find the trail in the snow. It was usually obvious just from the shape of the ground, and where it was not obvious, I could find the trail by looking at the trees. Trees which had branches that had been cut off with a saw were next to the trail, so I kept my eye out for evidence of saw-work to keep myself on track. That only works in a forest – and if I had continued moving south, instead of backtracking, I would have left the forest, and there was no guarantee that I would have been able to consistently find the trail without the evidence of tree-trimming.

Besides, hiking in the snow, even if it’s only a few inches deep, is tiring. I had microspikes, which are helpful in hard old snow, but not helpful in soft new snow. Snowshoes would have been helpful, but I didn’t have snowshoes.

Oh, and did you notice the cacti in the snow?

This is a closeup of the previous picture, featuring cacti in the snow.

I did not find any human footprints aside from my own, but I found plenty of nonhuman prints. The deer seemed to have been quite active that night. I also found some prints I could not identify (though I am certain they were not bear prints since they are still in hibernation – indeed, one of the reasons I was hiking so early in the season was so that I would not worry about bears taking my food).

My plan was to go all the way back to Walker Pass, which had an official campground and a highway, and camp there until I could get a ride out. I knew Walker Pass would probably be covered with snow, but the campground had an outhouse where I could sleep if I were desperate, I had more than enough food, and I knew a bus would be coming in two days if I failed to hitchhike.

When I got back to McIvers Cabin (which was halfway between my campsite and Walker Pass), I found this.

Off-highway vehicles at McIvers’ Cabin on March 17, 2018

March 16 was a Friday, which is why I was the only person at McIvers cabin. But March 17 was a Saturday, which meant all of the OHV people had come out to play.

Instead of hiking all the way back to Walker Pass and its snow-covered campground, I hitchhiked on an OHV. It is the first time in my life I have ever been in an OHV. It was like a rollercoaster, except it was a rollercoaster which was passing through a snow-covered desert. It was only in the very last leg of the ride that we finally got out of the snow, and into the open desert, specifically the Dove Springs Open Area.

An RV in the Dove Springs Open Area, with the desert in the background.

I thought the desert would be warm, but nope, it was only slightly warmer than the mountains. The main difference was that there was no snow.

From Dove Springs Open Area, a park ranger gave me a ride to Jawbone Station. He approved of my decision to get off trail. He seemed to have a lot of experience with this section of the PCT. From Jawbone Station, I got a ride to Mojave, California, which was also really cold, but has motels, as well as public transit going all the way back to San Francisco.

So yes, I am back in San Francisco right now. Does that mean I’ve given up on my grand hike of the Southern California Pacific Crest Trail? HECK NO! This is just a strategic withdrawal. My appetite has been whetted, I am totally going back to SoCal when the weather is more favorable.

Meanwhile, I have already had a fascinating adventure. This was much more memorable than if the hike had gone according to plan. I can now say that that I have spent a night outside in a winter snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains (it was the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada and almost in spring, but technically still in the Sierra Nevada and in winter). Also, I got an excellent ride in an OHV in a dramatic snow-to-desert landscape. I am attracted to the Pacific Crest Trail because it fosters experiences like this, and I would rather have things happen like this than have a hike where everything goes according to plan yet I’m bored.