The Smoke That I Found

My tent in Martinson’s Gap, Norse Peak Wilderness, Central Washington. This part of the trail is currently closed, and possibly destroyed.

On August 7, 2017, I stopped at the campsite next to a creek at mile 2339.3 on the Pacific Crest Trail, near Arch Rock, in the Norse Peak Wilderness. I took a break there, getting more water (it was the first water source I had passed since the afternoon of the previous day) and eating some snacks. As I was filtering water and munching, I noticed that it smelled like smoke. Clearly there had been a campfire the previous night.

Just before I left, I realized that it smelled like smoke because smoke was coming from the campfire ring. In some small way, the campfire was still burning.

Chances are, even if I had failed to notice the smoking campfire ring, it would have self-extinguished anyway. But having noticed it, I did not dare take a chance. Thankfully, it was next to a creek, so it was easy to haul water to completely soak the campfire ring. It stopped smoking after that.

Later, I talked to Ben and Kseniya about that since I knew they had stayed at that campsite the previous night. They told me that a southbound hiker had started the campfire. I had met a couple southbounders that morning before I had reached the campsite with the smoking campfire ring. I wish there were a way to send a message to them, to let them know that they had left a campfire without 100% extinguishing it.

Even though I think it probably would have been okay if I hadn’t doused the campfire with water, there is a tiny chance that I prevented a forest fire, and that I helped the PCT remain open for … two weeks.

On August 11 – just four days after I soaked the source of the smoke – there was a lightning storm which started a bunch of little fires in the Norse Peak Wilderness. These grew into a big fire which is called the ‘Norse Peak Fire’. About a couple weeks after I passed through, the PCT was closed, frustrating the aspirations of many hikers (including Jon). For a while, over 100 miles of the PCT were closed. Now, only about 16 miles are closed due to the Norse Peak fire – including Martinson’s Gap (where the photo at the top of this post was taken), and the place where I found the smoky campfire ring. Since this is the part of the trail which remains closed, my guess is that this is the part of the trail which actually burned (as opposed to being closed because the fire might spread). The trail may be destroyed already, and even if it is intact, it may be destroyed by spring snowmelt.

I hope the trail is okay and easy to repair.

I have an odd feeling, when I think back on that source of smoke I discovered, and the knowledge that that location turned out to be the epicenter of one of the worst fires on the PCT in 2017.

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 when 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 money) 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.

[UPDATE: I’ve changed my process – after the initial rinse, I now mix baking soda and castille soap together in the same water, soak, rinse out the baking soda and castille soap, then add water + vinegar and let that soak, then pour out, and let the family cloth dry with the diluted vinegar still in the cloth. I now use vinegar not just for the disinfecting properties, but because it also softens the cloth – without vinegar, the cloths get a bit stiff. Since I combined the baking soda and castille soap steps, it doesn’t take more time/effort than before, in fact I can now do all of this pretty mindlessly. I also experimented with washing soda instead of baking soda, and my advice is that baking soda is better).

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.