Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 1

I wrote this post about my tent having toxic flame retardants. As I was writing the post, I was dimly aware that a lot of furniture in my home probably has toxic flame retardants too, and that objectively, the flame retardants in my home were probably harming much more than flame retardants in my tent. However, I had a mental block. Why? Because I’m not used to choosing furniture in my home.

Until now, I’ve basically never exercised any choice about furniture in my home (except maybe something on the scale of moving a chair). I currently live in my childhood home, which means that pretty much all of the furniture was chosen by my parents, not me. I’m used to having them make decisions about adding or removing furniture, not me. In Taiwan, I only lived in furnished apartments, which meant that my landlord chose the furniture in my home (which I liked because it saved me the bother and expense of having to buy and move furniture).

By contrast, I’ve generally picked out my own camping gear, so I am used to taking responsibility for whether the camping gear suits my needs and preferences.

Until very recently, my bed was literally five different mattresses piled one on top of the other, all on top of a metal bed frame. I did not even know how many mattresses there were until I removed them one by one. Those mattresses have been there ever since I returned to the United States in late 2014. Were they there before I left the United States? I don’t remember. I didn’t pay attention to what my parents did to my bed when I was absent.

When I returned home after my big trip this summer (2017), I noticed that the top mattress has springs which were poking through the fabric and thus poking me. This made it difficult to sleep. So I did the rational thing and … piled some extra sheets on top of the mattress to cushion it, and then pulled out my lightest sleeping bag to sleep inside it on top of the sheet pile. It was a decent kludge for when I wanted to go to sleep and didn’t have time/energy to do anything about the mattress. However, instead of trying to change the mattress, I just kept on using the kludge for more than two months.

I took this photo while I was in the process of paring down my old bed. The mattress which was poking me in the back is leaning against the wall on the left side. Inside that mattress protector in the back of the picture was the bad feather mattress. The red thing in the foreground is a quilt which I am still using now.

It eventually sunk in that, if I were concerned about exposing myself to toxic flame retardants, I could do a lot more to reduce my exposure by changing my bedroom than changing my tent. And it sunk in that changing mattresses would probably lead to better sleeping than just keeping the sheets piled on pokey bedsprings. So I finally decided to get rid of ALL of those mattresses I had been sleeping on and buy a brand new mattress.

Fortunately, I made this decision just in time for Black Friday. Thus, I was able to get a traditional Japanese futon mattress (also known as ‘shiki futon’) that was made purely from organic cotton grown in Texas for less than 300 USD (including taxes). If you have any idea how expensive organic cotton is, then you appreciate what a bargain this is. Specifically, I bought this futon (Twin XL size, 3 inch, organic cotton case).

Why organic cotton as opposed to ‘conventional’ cotton. This explains the difference in environmental impact. In addition to the general environmental reasons, if I’m trying to avoid toxins, it makes sense to avoid the toxins used in processing ‘conventional’ cotton. I’ve also noticed, when I compared organic cotton fabric to equivalent conventional cotton fabric, that the organic cotton fabric is higher quality and lasts longer. I think it’s worth paying triple the price to get organic cotton (I have seen a new conventional cotton shiki futon for sale for about 100 USD).

I was surprised to learn that this futon is made in San Francisco. I was even more surprised to find myself visiting their factory and showroom in order to buy the futon. I have since learned that there are several businesses with mattress factories which operate in San Francisco, not just this one. Like must of the United States, San Francisco, which once had a lot of manufacturing, has been deindustrialized. Though this was not the deciding factor, I think it’s cool that I now sleep on a mattress which was made in the very same city where I’m using it, which is also the city where I’ve spent most of my life.

The factory, of course, is in southeast San Francisco. I consider southeast San Francisco to be part of the rust belt. First of all, there is literally lots of rust – people who love rusty abandoned industrial buildings can have a great time in southeast San Francisco. Deindustralization has hit southeast San Francisco hard. When I hear or read about cities such as Detroit, Youngstown, Buffalo, etc., I imagine them as being like southeast San Francisco but with more land area, cheaper housing, less gentrification, and worse infrastructure. My mother expressed concern about me going to the factory/showroom – especially since it’s just a block away from Potrero Terrace, one of San Francisco’s ‘most distressed’ public housing projects – but I wasn’t worried, especially since I’ve never had a problem when I’ve walked through Potrero Terrace before (you can see what Potrero Terrace looks like in this video). Like the rest of the rust belt, southeast San Francisco has a reputation for being full of poverty and crime.

Anyway, back to my new organic cotton shiki futon. Why that and not some other non-toxic mattress?

First of all, it was the second cheapest new non-toxic/organic mattress I was able to find (I will discuss the cheapest, and why I decided against it, in a future post in this series).

Second, it’s consistent with washitsu style. During my extensive travels in Japan, I slept in washitsu-style rooms many times and became rather fond of them. I don’t intend to converting my entire bedroom into an authentic washitsu room, but for years I’ve thought it would be nice to incorporate some of that aesthetic. And now I have.

This washitsu room is actually in Rueisui, Taiwan, not in Japan. However, this inn was built when Japan ruled Taiwan to serve Japanese guests, and the innkeepers have maintained its original Japanese style. I remember that I had to pull out a futon and blankets from the closet and lay them on the tatami floor myself.

Third, it did not have wool. A lot of the nontoxic mattresses use wool because it is naturally fire-resistant and a way to comply with federal fire safety laws without using toxic chemicals. However, I do not want wool because a) I do not want to exploit sheep that way and b) I don’t want a repeat of the moth infestation I experienced in my bedroom as a child.

Fourth, it does not contain latex. I am only allergic to synthetic latex (or more accurately, the chemicals which are sometimes mixed with synthetic latex), not natural latex, but I still feel more secure avoiding natural latex.

Fifth, I like the idea of having a portable bed. My new shiki futon only weighs about 30 pounds (14 kg) so I can easily move it without assistance. I’m going to discuss why portability is important to me in the third post in this series.

The next post? I’m going to talk about what the purpose of a bed actually is.

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Life-Alienating Communication in Two Fictional Dialogues

Right now, I’m going through the Nonviolent Communication Companion Workbook by Lucy Leu because I am trying to better understand the ideas of ‘Nonviolent Communication’ and try them out in my own life to see if they are beneficial. One of the exercises is:

Write down a dialogue (of about 6-8 lines) between two people that isn’t going well … After you have completed writing down the lines, re-read them and determine if either person has communicated using on of the Four D’s

What are the ‘Four D’s’? According to the, workbook, they are:

Think of the forms of life-alienating communication as the “Four D’s of Disconnection”

1. Diagnosis, judgement, analysis, criticism, comparison
2. Denial of responsibility
3. Demand
4. “Deserve”-oriented language

There is more detailed description of these concepts in the books Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I think one of the key ideas from this chapter is:

[When using life-alienating communication] Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others are needing and not getting.

Nothing in the workbook suggests that only dialogues taken from real life are beneficial for this exercise, so I decided to take a dialogue from fiction for fun. And I picked one of the most famous scenes from Shén Diāo ​Xiá​ Lǚ​ for this exercise. First, the original dialogue in Chinese (pulled from the novel):

小龍女: 你怎麼仍是叫我姑姑?難道你沒真心待我麼?你到底當我是什麼人?
楊過: 你是我師父,你憐我教我,我發過誓,要一生一世敬你重你,聽你的話。
小龍女: 難道你不當我是你妻子?
楊過: 不,不!你不能是我妻子,我怎麼配?你是我師父,是我姑姑。
小龍女: 哇
楊過: 姑姑,姑姑!
小龍女: 既是這樣,以後你別再見我。

This is a screenshot from this scene in the 1995 TV adaptation.

And here is my translation into English (I think translating the dialogues from Chinese to English helps me by making me more conscious of the nuances in the language):

Xiaolongnü: How are you still calling me ‘auntie’? Does that mean you weren’t sincere in the way you treated me? Who do you think I am?
Yang Guo: You are my teacher, you love me, you teach me, I’ve taken a vow, I will respect you for the rest of my life, and obey you.
Xiaolongnü: Does that mean you do not consider me to be your wife?
Yang Guo: No, no! You can’t be my wife, how could I be worthy? You are my teacher, my auntie.
Xiaolongnü: Agh!
Yang Guo: Auntie, auntie!
Xiaolongnü: If that’s how it is, never see me again.

One can see how the actors performed this scene in the 2006 adaptation here, the 1983 TV adaptation here, and in the English dub of the anime adaptation here (note: if one chooses to watch the full episode rather than just this specific scene, be aware that this episode contains a sexual assault scene).

So, are there any of the D’s of Disconnection in there?

1. Diagnosis, judgement, analysis, criticism, comparison: Xiaolongnü judges Yang Guo for possibly not being sincere. Yang Guo also compares himself to the ideal of who he imagines may be worthy of marrying Xiaolongnü, and judges that he himself is not worthy.

2. Denial of responsibility: Yang Guo does not say ‘I do not want to be your husband’ or ‘I choose not to be your husband’ instead he just says its not possible. Thus he is denying his responsibility for his choice not to marry Xiaolongnü (for the record, I think it is always okay for someone to choose not to marry anyone they do not want to marry, and if Yang Guo does not want to marry Xiaolongnü I would highly recommend that he choose not to marry her, I am just pointing out that he is framing it as something which is beyond his control rather than a choice he is making).

3. Demand: Xiaolongnü is demanding Yang Guo to stop calling her ‘auntie’ (she demands this repeatedly, I just cut out the earlier part of this dialogue where she makes this demand again and again). In the end, Xiaolongnü also demands Yang Guo to never see her again.

4. “Deserve”-oriented language: I’m not sure this is present in this dialogue. At most, Yang Guo’s claim that he is not worthy of being Xiaolongnü’s husband is ‘deserve’ language in the sense that he claims that he does not deserve a wife like Xiaolongnü (though I translated the word 配 as ‘be worthy’, an alternative translation is ‘deserve’).

The scene where Xiaolongnü threatens to kill Yang Guo with her sword, as shown in the 1995 TV adaptation.

The workbook suggests taking this a step further and guessing what the speakers’ unmet need are. Here are my guesses (of course I am using the context in the story, not just this specific slice of dialogue, to make my guesses).

Xiaolongnü’s unmet needs: appreciation (this does not think Yang Guo appreciates the sacrifice she has made), consideration (she does not think Yang Guo is considering her needs/preferences), harmony and order (she thinks that, due to a prior event, it would no longer fit her sense of harmony and order for her and Yang Guo to continue their relationship as teacher and student; she thinks harmony can be restored by changing to a wife-and-husband relationship), interpersonal security (she does not trust that Yang Guo will continue to fulfil her needs for connection, closeness, and intimacy)
Yang Guo’s unmet need: physical security (up until this point in the story, everyone – with the exception of his mother and Granny Sun, who are both dead – ends up threatening to physically hurt him or actually physically hurts him, so he does not feel secure, and he tried to protect himself by professing humility – i.e. ‘how can I be worthy?’), interpersonal security (he is afraid that, if he is not sufficiently obedient, Xiaolongnü will stop meeting his emotional needs)

There’s another famous scene in Shén Diāo ​Xiá​ Lǚ​ where two people have a dialogue which isn’t going well. I’m using it for this exercise too. Here is the Chinese dialogue pulled from the novel:

楊過: 我做了什麼事礙著你們了?我又害了誰啦?姑姑教過我武功,可是我偏要她做我妻子。你們斬我一千刀、一萬刀,我還是要她做妻子。
郭靖: 小畜生,你膽敢出此大逆不道之言?
楊過: 姑姑全心全意的愛我,我對她也是這般。郭伯伯,你要殺我便下手,我這主意是永生永世不改的。
郭靖: 我當你是我親生兒子一般,決不許你做了錯事,卻不悔改。
楊過: 我沒錯!我沒做壞事!我沒害人!
郭靖: 過兒,我心裡好疼,你明白麼?我寧可你死了,也不願你做壞事,你明白麼?
楊過: 我知道自己沒錯,你不信就打死我好啦。
郭靖: 你好好的想想去罷。

My translation:

Yang Guo: What have I done which has hindered you? Who have I harmed? Auntie taught me marital arts, but I want her to be my wife. If you cut me with a thousand knives, ten thousand knives, I will still want her to be my wife.
Guo Jing: Beast, you dare say something so disrespectful?
Yang Guo: Auntie loves me with all of her heart, and I feel the same way towards her. Uncle Guo, if you want to kill me, just do it, I will never change my mind.
Guo Jing: I consider you to be just like a son, I will never let you do wrong without repentance.
Yang Guo: I am not wrong! I haven’t done anything bad! I haven’t harmed anybody!
Guo Jing: My heart is in pain, do you understand? I would rather have you die than have you do anything bad, do you understand?
Yang Guo: I know that I have done no wrong, if you don’t believe that then kill me.
Guo Jing: [almost kills Yang Guo, then pulls back at the last moment, sparing Yang Guo] Reflect carefully on this.

Guo Jing yells at Yang Guo in the 1995 TV adaptation.

One can see how the actors performed this scene in the 2006 TV adaptation here, the 1983 TV adaptation here, and the English dub of the anime adaptation here.

Hmmm, I wonder if there is any ‘life-alienating communication’ in that dialogue?

1. Diagnosis, judgement, analysis, criticism, comparison: Guo Jing diagnoses Yang Guo as being a ‘beast’ and criticizes him for being ‘disrespectful’. He is also makes a moralistic judgement of Yang Guo wanting to marry Xiaolongnü. Yang Guo also says that he is ‘not wrong’ (it mirrors Guo Jing’s language, and is also a measurement/classification of degree of wrongness).

2. Denial of responsibility: I don’t think either of them are denying responsibility for anything in this specific dialogue.

3. Demand: Guo Jing is demanding Yang Guo to stop saying he wants to marry Xiaolongnü, or as Guo Jing phrases it, to never do anything which is ‘wrong’. He also demands that Yang Guo reflect carefully on. Does Yang Guo saying ‘if you don’t believe that then kill me’ count as a demand? I’m not sure, but my inclination is to say that it is not a demand.

4. “Deserve”-oriented language: Though ‘deserve’ language does not directly appear, Guo Jing is obviously threatening to punish Yang Guo with death if Yang Guo does not submit to Guo Jing’s demands, which may be a way of communicating that Yang Guo would ‘deserve’ death if he chooses to marry Xiaolongnü.

Here are my guesses about their unmet needs…

Yang Guo: physical security (Guo Jing is literally threatening to kill him right now)
Guo Jing: Hoo boy. Where to begin?
– interpseronal security (he is worried that Yang Guo might damange his reputation, which may mean that his needs for appreciation, inclusion, and respect may not be met in the future if Yang Guo does not repent wanting to marry Xiaolongnü)
– harmony and order (from Guo Jing’s perspective, Yang Guo’s actions are not harmonious with his values)
– integrity (according to Guo Jing’s Confucian values, because Yang Kang was his sworn brother, and Yang Kang is dead, he is responsible for Yang Kang’s son i.e. Yang Guo. In particular, Guo Jing feels guilty because Yang Kang did so much harm to so many people, and Guo Jing believes that if Yang Guo grows up with good Confucian moral characters, it will help amend for Yang Kang’s moral failings and Guo Jing’s failure to prevent Yang Kang’s moral failings.)

***

I remember the first time I read the novel, I thought that Guo Jing’s actions in this particular scene were SO WRONG. And when I look at it through the lens of measuring degrees of wrongness, it still reads as ‘SO WRONG’ to me. Trying to think about this scene from a totally non-judgemental point of view, without measuring rightness or wrongness, feels weird. I’ve also done this exercise with a YouTube video where people were engaged in a dialogue that was not going well (but I’m not going to write in detail about that on this blog because, unlike these fictional characters, the people in that video are real), and it also felt very weird to watch that video from a non-judgemental perspective.

I am becoming more aware of how much of my interpretation of the world is based on measuring the level of ‘wrongness’ in others and myself. I am not going to completely forswear that way of understanding the world – at times, it might be the most useful approach – but if I am going to use the lens of measuring degrees of wrongness, I want to do it on purpose, not out of habit. I am hoping that going through the Nonviolent Communication Workbook will help me learn how put NVC into practice so that I will have the choice of using NVC.

Lakes of the Washington Pacific Crest Trail, Part 2

In Part 1, I described the lakes where I camped. In this post, I am going to share lakes which were special to me even though I did not camp there.

Blue Lake, where I refilled my water before I met No Fucks, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Southern Washington

Blue Lake in the Indian Heaven Wilderness is special because a) it’s beautiful b) that’s where I did my water refill in Indian Heaven Wilderness and c) it’s beautiful. I had planned my hike so I would not stay overnight in Indian Heaven Wilderness (due to all of the mosquitoes) but if I were going to stay overnight in Indian Heaven, I’d try to claim one of the coveted campsites by Blue Lake.

“Small Pond” at mile 2240.6 on the Halfmile maps, Mount Adams Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Okay, this is a ‘pond’ not a ‘lake’, but it allowed me to take a Shiretoko Lakes style photo of Mount Adams, so this ‘pond’ counts as a special lake for me.

Sheep Lake, near Chinook Pass, Mount Ranier National Park, Southern Washington.

I know that Part 1 also has a photo of Sheep Lake, but it’s such a wonderful lake that I have to include it in this post too. It’s a great place to each lunch!

Mirror Lake, near Snoqualmie Pass, Central Washington.

Like most hikers, I think the PCT between Tacoma Pass and Snoqualmie Pass ranges from okay to awful (actually, I did not think it was as terrible as some of the guidebooks claim it is, but I suspect that’s because there have been some improvements since those books were written). But then there is Mirror Lake! Coming from the south, I first saw the waterfall created by the lake outlet, and then I got high enough to see the lake itself. Wonderful! And to make a magical place even more magical, there was trail magic – I got to eat some fruit, a sports drink, and some snacks. Thanks, Trail Angel! Mirror Lake is an island of fantastic in a sea of ugghhh. So, unless you want to complete the Washington PCT, my recommendation is to go straight to Mirror Lake (it’s only about an hour’s hike away from Ollalie Meadow, which has a road) and ignore the rest of the PCT between Tacoma Pass and Snoqualmie Pass.

Spectacle Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

When I first saw Spectacle Lake from that ridge, my reaction was ‘WHOAAAAAAAA!!!’ Looking at the pictures now, my reaction is still ‘WHOAAAAAAAA!!!!’

Waptus Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

Waptus Lake is a really big lake. I remember I took a break to dry out my gear (it had rained that morning) at a viewpoint where I spent a lot of time looking at this lake.

Deception Lakes, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

Deception Lakes was fantastic! (That is, it was a fantastic place to eat dinner and enjoy the scenery, I think I would have had problems if I camped there overnight). Just when I thought I couldn’t be more impressed by the lakes in Alpine Lakes Wilderness, I find these lakes which are beautiful in a *different* way from the other lakes I had seen.

Trap Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

I don’t know why Trap Lake caught my eye compared to other lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Maybe it’s special to me because it was my reward for ascending Trap Pass (the other reward was meeting some cool hikers who had camped at Trap Pass and had slept in that morning – I later met one of those hikers again at another lake, and then at Stevens Pass).

Pear Lake, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington

Pear Lake is another one of those lakes which is the only water source for miles around it (and it’s also slightly off the PCT – I naively assumed there would be some place it would cross the PCT, but no, I had to backtrack to the side trail which leads to the lake). It’s a beautiful lake nonetheless, and worth visiting even if it wasn’t an important water source. And the water looked very clean and clear by the standards of sitting water.

Lake Sally Ann, Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Lake Sally Ann is yet another beautiful lake. What I find special about Sally Ann (besides the local guy I met there) is the location. It’s on a mountain ridge where one doesn’t expect to see a lake, and while I was hiking up there I was wondering where the lake *could be*, and there it sits, improbably.

Reflection Pond, near White Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington

Some guidebooks describe Reflection Pond as being ‘gross’ but I thought it was a really cool spot. Yes, I drank the water here. I thought the views were excellent, and there was shade too.

Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington

Last but NOT LEAST is Mica Lake. Mica Lake has the distinction of being my ~favorite~ lake on the entire Washington PCT.

Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington

Mica Lake is an awesome place to hang out. I ate lunch and did some foot care there. I got water from the outlet (running water is usually better than standing water).

Outlet of Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

I noticed that someone had even built a little stone wall to offer a little wind protection for a campsite. Though I’m sure the wall helps, and even though this IS my favorite lake in Washington, I do not recommend camping here – the condensation will be horrible (one hiker I met, Chatterbox, did camp here, and he confirmed that the condensation is horrible). But if you don’t camp here, then condensation will not ruin your experience of this fantastic lake!

Mica Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Since this is my favorite lake on the Washington PCT, it is the perfect lake to end this post.

(Lack of) Racial Diversity on the PCT

Hikers enjoy shade and trail magic at Scissors Crossing, San Diego County, California.

The Pacific Crest Trail, I’ve noticed, is very white. And I’m not just talking about how much snow you see on the trail.

Among the hikers who live in the USA or Canada, the vast majority are racially white. After ‘white’ the most common racial category (among hikers who live in the USA or Canada) was Asian American. However, considering that about half of all PCT hikers live in California, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia, all of which (except Oregon) have large Asian-American (Asian Canadian) populations, there are surprisingly few Asian-American hikers. During my entire hike on the Washington PCT, I met one black hiker (who remembered seeing me at Scissors Crossing in Southern California, though I did not remember seeing him – I’m impressed that he remembered me four months later after such a brief encounter).

This blogger noticed it too.

89% of people who responded to the 2016 PCT Thru-Hiker Survey said they were ‘Caucasian’ (and 5% declined to answer). 74% of the people who responded to the 2017 PCT Thru-Hiker survey said they were ‘Caucasian’ and 20% declined to answer. In both 2016 and 2017, only 6% of thruhikers said that they were a race other than ‘Caucasian’. Though the survey only goes to thruhikers, my experience is that the racial diversity of section hikers is similar to the racial diversity of thruhikers.

Notice how, so far, I’ve only talked about hikers who reside in the USA or Canada, which is the majority of hikers. However, a substantial minority of PCT hikers (especially thru-hikers or hikers doing very long sections) do not live in the USA or Canada.

Most of the non-USA/Canada hikers are from Europe, especially from countries which are dominated by Germanic-language speakers and/or French speakers. However, the PCT is becoming increasingly popular among Eastern European hikers (I met the guy who claims to be the first Bulgarian to thru-hike the entire PCT) so the proportions of European hikers may change.

The PCT is also becoming much more popular among East Asians. This year, I met 7 Taiwanese hikers on the PCT (considering Taiwan’s relatively small population, that is impressive). They told me that more Taiwanese hikers become interested every year as the word spreads in Taiwanese hiking communities (also, the movie Wild – the only hiker I met who admitted to hiking the PCT because he saw that movie was from Taiwan). Japan and South Korea are also well-represented, which does not surprise me since, like Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have very firmly establishing hiking cultures, as well as a substantial middle class which can afford to travel to North America.

(Aside: I notice that the only Asian countries mentioned in Halfmiles 2016 survey are India and Israel, assuming one counts Israel as being part of Asia. I met Japanese and Korean hikers on the PCT in 2016, so I know they were there, but I suspect they are less likely to respond to surveys like this than European hikers.)

In fact, I met a lot more Asians from Asia than Asian Americans (Asian Canadians) on the PCT, and the Asian:European ratio was much higher than the Asian-American(Canadian)/White-American(Canadian) ratio.

It gets even more extreme when it comes to Latinx hikers. I met a few Latinx hikers who reside outside the United States and came to the USA specifically to thru-hike the PCT. The only Latinx hikers I met on the PCT who live in the USA were day hikers who did not even know that the PCT ran outside of Mount Ranier National Park, let alone from Mexico to Canada until I told them (and on the Bay Area Ridge Trail – not on the PCT – I met a Latino PCT hiker who grew up in San Diego, and I later ran into him again in Ashland, Oregon).

The only African hikers I met were white hikers from South Africa.

A sign which informs hikers that they are entering Yakima Reservation.

It’s worth noting that I (usually) see more racial diversity in the trail towns than on the trail itself. I tend to see Latinx people in trail towns (yes, including Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, though this is especially true of the trail towns in California). Some trail towns also have significant populations of American Indians or Canadian First Nations People. For example, Milt Kenney a.k.a. “Mayor of the PCT”, who was the most famous trail angel before Donna Saufley started Hiker Heaven) had Karuk ancestry (the Karuk people are the indigenous people of the Klamath River valley). Heck, the PCT runs through some Indian reservations. One of the trail towns (Julian) was historically a town with a relatively large black population (at one time, half of all of the black people in San Diego County lived in Julian). Trout Lake (Washington) has some residents of Asian descent (for example, the man who kindly let me ride in his vehicle from the Forest Road 23 trailhead into Trout Lake was born in Vietnam).

The hikers from Asia and Latin America prove that some people of Asian and Latin American ancestry have a strong interest in hiking the PCT, so there is clearly nothing intrinsic about being Asian or Latinx which would stop one from wanting to do it (and I strongly doubt that there is anything intrinsic about being black which would stop one from wanting to do it either).

(There are also hikers who primarily use the PCT to enter the United States from Mexico without documents, and they generally only hike the southernmost 40 miles or less. They are more likely to be found dead on the trail than any other type of hiker. I am guessing that most of them are Latinx.)

This is a sign about 15 miles away from the USA/Mexico border written in Spanish, warning people about how life-threatening the trail is.

Why is there so much more racial diversity among the hikers from abroad than from the hikers from USA/Canada?

Part of the answer is probably related to finances. It generally costs roughly $6000 to thru-hike the PCT, though some people can get the cost below $1000 if they are lucky/clever/willing to make a lot of sacrifices to reduce cost, and some people end up spending a lot more than $6000. Section hiking (which is what I do) is cheaper-per-trip, though hiking the entire PCT by section is more expensive in the long run than a thru-hike. However, even the thruhikers who can squeeze the costs down to $1000 still need to have that thousand dollars available (and people doing section hikes – unless they already live in or near a trail town or are able to obtain decent gear for free – will generally need to get at least a few hundred dollars together if they are backpacking for multiple days). According to data from the Federal Reserve, 47% of Americans can’t pay a surprise bill of $400 without selling something or taking out a loan. That means that at least 47% of Americans cannot financially afford to go on a long hike of the PCT without sponsorship (and most hikers cannot get sponsorship). And the Americans who cannot pay that $400 surprise bill are disproportionately ‘Hispanic’ and black (I do not know the data on Asian Americans).

Keep in mind that, so far, I’ve only mentioned funding the direct expenses of PCT hiking. I haven’t even touched issues such as how going away on long hiking trips would affect one’s employment/income situation.

However, while I think finances are a partial explanation, it does not entirely explain the disparity. For example, though Warrior Expeditions sponsors PCT thru-hikes for veterans (so the veterans do not have to spend any of their own money for their hike), every veteran I’ve met hiking on the PCT was white. If finances were the only major barrier, then wouldn’t the sponsored veterans who hike the PCT reflect the racial diversity of the veteran community? The Warrior Expeditions website does feature a few Latinx hikers and one Asian-American hiker, but the vast majority of hikers they show are non-Latinx white.

What do American long-distance hikers of color say about all this? Here is an interview with Robert Taylor, who claims to be the first African American to thruhike both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. Here is an interview with Rahawa Haile interview, who thruhiked the Appalachian Trail (no, it’s not the PCT, but since it’s a long American hiking trail I think it’s still relevant). The blog Brown Girl on the (P)CT only occasionally discusses race explicitly (as opposed to implicitly), so it’s hard to point to a specific link where she discusses race explicitly for people who don’t want to read the entire archive, but here is a post with more explicit discussion than most. As it so happens, I met Zuul in Etna in 2016. And here is a very interesting interview with Double Sprainbow, the Japanese-American PCT hiker who founded the ‘Hikers of Color’ group on Facebook.

Yes, about the ‘drama llama’ which surrounded the Hikers of Color group.

First of all, I don’t use Facebook, and I don’t even know how Facebook discussion groups work. My own reaction to learning that there is a ‘Hikers of Color’ online group is ‘Hike Your Own Hike’. If hikers of color want there own discussion group – and it’s clear that some do – why not? While I have never seen anything of the PCT group(s) on Facebook, I did see the comment thread to that podcast, and I am rather struck by comments such as this one:

The trail has got to harbor the most inclusive, most accepting population this side of tall ship sailing.

To claim there are special needs based on skin color is simply absurd. Claiming to have special knowledge of this due to skin color still makes it absurd. The rain, blisters, wild life, rangers and fellow hikers don’t care who you are.

First of all, I think saying that the ‘special needs’ of hikers of color are ‘absurd’ is not an effective way to support one’s claim that the trail has a very inclusive and accepting population. Though I am not a hiker of color, if someone approached me saying that they belonged to an ‘inclusive’ and ‘accepting’ population and that my claim that I have ‘special needs’ is absurd, I would not be convinced that they want to include and accept me – quite the opposite. I think a better way to demonstrate inclusivity and acceptance is to try to understand and acknowledge the concerns of hikers of color.

Second, I completely agree that the rain, blisters, and wild life do not care about human racial categories at all. I disagree about the rangers and hikers. Humans (including rangers and hikers) sometimes do care, and even dogs sometimes care. Heck, I care. If I were indifferent to human racial categories, then I wouldn’t be writing this long post. I can tell you that, when I was backpacking in East Asia, and I encountered another backpacker who was non-Asian, I would care that they were non-Asian like me (I admit that I cared more about their non-Asianness than whether they were Guatamalan, Québécois, Turkish, etc.)

For example, people who might offer rides to hikers hitchhiking between the trail and town sometimes care about race. One of the concerns I’ve seen PCT hikers of color express is that someone who would offer a ride to a white person might not offer a ride to a person of color because the driver thinks people of color are scary. Thus, the hikers of color are afraid that it will be harder for them to get rides. When drivers pass them by, they wonder if they would have gotten a ride if they were white. Since male hikers of all colors are also concerned that people who would have given rides to female hikers may not offer them rides, I would think this would be an easy problem for them to understand (as a white female hiker, I generally never wonder whether someone is not offering me a ride because I am white or female).

***

The Pacific Crest Trail is my first, and so far only, exposure to outdoor culture in North America (excluding various school trips, such as the time my entire middle school history class camped on Angel Island, and my hikes in Marin County). Before I started hiking the PCT, I would have expected that the racial diversity of American hikers on the PCT would have roughly correlated to the racial diversity of the United States California. It was a surprise for me that this is not the case.

As some of you know, I got started on hiking/backpacking when I was living in Taiwan, and I’ve also done a fair bit of hiking/backpacking in Japan/South Korea/Hong Kong, so I was introduced to East Asian hiking culture before I got to know North American hiking culture. When I started hiking on the PCT, I had to culturally adjust (thinking about miles instead of kilometers while hiking? weird!) In the beginning, even the fact that English was the primary language on the PCT was weird, though I got over that very quickly.

In the backcountry of East Asia, I was used to being the 洋妹 (non-Asian young woman) and having my race be one of my outstanding/memorable features (it usually wasn’t a big deal, it was more of a background thing). The exception was Hong Kong, where there are just enough white hikers/backpackers around that my whiteness was not remarkable. So being on the PCT, where my whiteness is generally not going to be considered my distinguishing feature, feels different. Of course, even if only 30% of PCT hikers were white, I would still not stand out as a white person.

How Much Do I Need the Internet?

Like just about every internet user who is not on the payroll of a massive internet service provider, I am in favor of net neutrality. In the United States, there is a serious threat that net neutrality will be lost. It would be best to keep net neutrality, but if net neutrality is lost, it would then be good to reduce one’s personal dependence on the internet. And even if net neutrality is preserved, the internet still can pose various threats to personal liberty, which is another reason to limit one’s dependence on the internet.

And I love the irony of writing about this on the internet.

As followers of this blog know, I recently went on a really long trip, mostly in places without electricity or internet service. I did not carry any device which could connect to the internet, so I had even less internet access than most of the people around me – people who carry smartphones could access the internet whenever they stumbled on a place with a wifi signal, whereas I did not just need wifi – I also needed to borrow a device. That meant I, for the most part, did not have internet access at all, and when I did have internet access, it was because someone was doing me a favor and I was using a frustrating smartphone on a mediocre wifi network. This was an excellent exercise for figuring out how much I needed the internet.

My #1 use of the internet is email. I generally only spend a little time on my email account, but when my internet access is very restricted, email gets top priority. Yet most of the emails I get are not that important to me – in fact, I don’t even read most of them. What makes email such a high priority is a) when I was away from home, it was a means of contacting my family (though I could also use a phone) and b) WHAT IF an important email arrived? That was the main reason email was such high priority – chances are, on a given day, I’m not going to receive any important emails, but I have to check my email to make sure that I don’t have any important emails.

My #2 use of the internet was practical information/reservations. When I was on trail, I could get all the practical information I needed by talking to people, but it was sometimes nice to confirm by checking the internet myself. I did need to print maps when I was in Ashland, which is why I had to reserve a longer block of time on the computers at the Ashland public library. However, as soon as I got off the trail, I suddenly needed the internet more urgently to get information on accommodation + transit in Canada, as well as to make reservations (including my reservations for trains and accommodation in Seattle and Portland). I could have done this with a phone and printed guidebook instead, but I didn’t have a printed guidebook for Canada (or Seattle/Portland), so that was that.

During my recent travel, when I got internet access, my usage was usually limited to email and practical information/reservations. However, I occasionally got slightly better internet access. For example, once I was done printing maps at Ashland, I still had some time left over before I was required to yield the computer to the next user. And in Snoqualmie Pass and Vancouver, I had access to internet terminals most of the time at my accommodation. Thus, I could use the internet beyond the strict essentials (I was also allowed to borrow an iPad upon request from the hostel I stayed at in Seattle).

What was my #3 use of the internet when I had extra access? Blogs. I would catch up on blogs. I used some of my extra time in Ashland on reading blogs, I spent a good chunk of time reading blogs in Vancouver, and in Snoqualmie Pass, I even wrote a short post. It became pretty clear to me that, beyond the bare essential practical uses of the internet, blogging is what I value most.

In Snoqualmie Pass, that oasis of internet access (it sure felt like an oasis of internet access to me), after I had taken care of my email, done the practical things I could do, and caught up on as many blogs as I had mental stamina for, I had a ‘what now?’ moment. I had all of this internet access, yet I could not think of a way to use it. I was too used to not having internet.

I basically do not do social media, so that is a large chunk of the internet which I do not use (I have no logged into my Facebook account since January 2010, and I don’t even understand how Twitter works, or Pinterest, or a bunch of other social media sites). There is a social penalty to refusing to use social media, but because this is my long-term state, I have developed a social life which does not rely on social media.

Yes, I do sometimes watch streaming videos on the internet, but I don’t value that as much as blogging. If I somehow lost access to video streaming, it would not be a big deal to me – it wasn’t a big deal that I never streamed videos during my entire two months of travel. In fact, nearly all of the online activities which I value (except the rare occasion when I want to download/upload big files) would work okay at dial-up speeds. And if I could somehow make sure that I never got an important email during my travels (or if I was comfortable with allowing someone else to check my email for me), and had a setup where I did not need the internet to make reservations, I probably would not use the internet at all on my next big backpacking trip.

This reflects my current situation – at other points in my life, I valued various internet services differently than I do now. Many people have much greater economic dependence on the internet than I do. For example, I know that some people in rural parts of the United States rely on Amazon for many purchases because it takes them several hours to drive to a place where they buy things in person (this is actually a situation which existed before the internet; a hundred years ago many rural households in the USA bought many goods from the Sears & Roebuck mail catalog for the same reason). There are also many people who value services such as video streaming and social media a lot more than I do. I do not think I am morally superior to people who value internet services differently than I do (especially since the way I value various internet services changes over time).

In addition to the issue of net neutrality, there is also the problem that the internet is becoming increasingly dominated by a few corporations – namely Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Even if these companies are not behaving badly, I still do not like so much power being so tightly concentrated. Thus, I want to avoid using them (and being dependent on them). I don’t use Facebook or any of their affiliated services anyway because when I tried using Facebook I didn’t like it. Nowadays, I will only buy something on Amazon if I a) really, really want it and b) cannot find any other reasonable way to get it. This is why I have not bought or read any ace fiction books which are only available for sale on Amazon (I can buy ace fiction fiction books which are available for sale elsewhere). Years ago I switched to using DuckDuckGo instead of Google for basic search. I still watch videos on YouTube and use Google Maps, and I even will occasionally give the Google search engine a shot if I’m unsatisfied with the DuckDuckGo results (and I sometimes give Baidu search engine a shot too, even though it’s under Chinese censorship).

Luckily, I’m not personally dependent on any of these companies, and I want to keep it that way.

However, I remain worried about the broader consequences. For an example of how letting one internet company have a lot of power can lead to badness, I remind you of the books which were too gay for Amazon (even though the cause in this case is disputed, it still shows how Amazon can abuse its power). A similar and more example is YouTube restricting LGBT+ content, which also affected ace vloggers (heterosexual videos with explicit sexual content are totally okay for kids but videos talking about asexuality are ‘mature’ and should not be viewed by people under 18 … wait, how does that make sense?)

The less dependent one is on the internet for various services one values (i.e. being able to substitute internet services one values with offline equivalents), the less power the internet – the internet service providers, large internet companies such as Google and Amazon, governments who censor the internet (I occasionally use websites based in China, and I fear that there will be more censorship in the US-based internet in the future) will have over one. I realize it is especially difficult to reduce one’s dependence on the internet if one needs it for a livelihood, but I think it’s something to consider.