About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who has previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.

The Density Debate: Infrastructure (Part 2)

Find Part 1 here.

If I am understanding the anti-density advocates arguments about the sewage system (and infrastructure) in general, then they predict that, if San Francisco’s population increases, either the degradation of our sewage system will accelerate, or if more resources are put into maintaining/upgrading the sewage system to accommodate the increase in population, diseconomies of scale will cause sewage bills to go up (i.e. the costs will be so high that, even with a larger base of ratepayers, the SFPUC will still have to charge more PER PERSON).

But what do I know? While more people means more stress on the sewage system, it also seems like a lot of the costs of the sewage system are fixed, not dependent on population. Even if San Francisco’s population does not increase, having a bunch of 100-year old sewers failing would still be a problem. Maybe having a larger base of ratepayers to cover the fixed costs will help even out the marginal costs incurred by a larger population. I’m definitely not enough of an expert on sewage systems to judge this one.

And then there is transportation. Traffic is bad in downtown San Francisco, and the streetcars / buses going to downtown are quite crowded during rush hour. I think the problem of crowded streetcars and buses could be solved by hiring more drivers and buying more vehicles and increasing frequency, but I know that is expensive, and that there are also logistical obstacles to buying more vehicles (even when the public transit agency tries to buy more vehicles, they sometimes fail, and have to repair the old vehicles instead – it’s complicated). The pro-density people say that increasing density would help alleviate congestion because more people could live close to their workplaces, and the anti-density people say that more people means more congestion and overloaded public transit.

Does population density increase or decrease congestion? Methinks the devil is in the details. It is true that there is a correlation between population density and congestion within San Francisco. Chinatown, which is densely populated, is also one of the most congested neighborhoods, the buses tend to be full, and I don’t even want to think about parking in Chinatown. In Forest Knolls, one of San Francisco’s least densely populated neighborhoods, I do not recall ever seeing a traffic jam, the buses tend to be less than half full, and parking is not so hard to find (by San Francisco standards). But that does not mean I think transportation is better in Forest Knolls than in Chinatown. In Chinatown, the buses are frequent, whereas the buses are not frequent in Forest Knolls. Also, Chinatown has a lot of grocery stores and restaurants, whereas I cannot think of a single convenience store, let alone a grocery or restaurant, in Forest Knolls, so one basically has to leave the neighborhood to buy food, and that is a transportation problem (and one of the main reasons I would rather live in Chinatown than Forest Knolls). I’ve seen some people from Forest Knolls protest against building more housing (i.e. increase population density), and while I think some of their concerns are valid, I do not think their concern about how it would impact public transit is valid. I actually would like to have more people living in Forest Knolls because then there would be more an incentive to increase the frequency of the bus lines there (and the buses going through Forest Knolls almost always have plenty of seats anyway) (and if you’re wondering how I know so much about buses in Forest Knolls, it’s because I used to use those buses to get to school).

I’m not talking about gas or electricity because I know even less about electrical grids and gas delivery than I do about water and sewage and transportation.

I do agree with the broader point of the anti-density activists that at some point the diseconomies of scale outweigh the economies of scale, and that increasing population density beyond that point means either paying a lot more for infrastructure or living with crappier infrastructure. And maybe San Francisco is at that inflection point, at least for some infrastructure systems.

I have lived in Taoyuan, a city in Taiwan. Just about any city in Taiwan with a population > 150,000 people is much more densely populated than San Francisco, and infrastructure in Taiwan, including Taoyuan, is generally crappier than the infrastructure in San Francisco (is the infrastructure crappy BECAUSE the population density is so high? I don’t know – I’m just saying that the population was much higher AND the infrastructure was crappier). I’ll be more specific – I drink water straight from the tap in San Francisco, whereas I did not dare do that in Taoyuan (I did not even take showers in the tap water in Taoyuan, I used a shower filter, the water is that bad). After hearing all of the horror stories about how crowded BART (a transit system in the San Francisco region) is during rush hour, I tend to be pleasantly surprised when I do end up riding BART during rush hour, because it is not as packed as the trains going in and out of Taoyuan. I can only recall one occasion when I took a bus within Taoyuan city (as opposed to an intercity bus) because the bus system in Taoyuan is much more limited than the bus system in San Francisco. And during all my decades of living in San Francisco, I have never encountered awful traffic like the awful traffic of Taoyuan (to be fair, Taoyuan appeared on a list of five Taiwanese cities with the worst traffic, so it may not be representative of Taiwanese cities). Sewage – well, the sewage system in Taoyuan could not handle toilet paper. Garbage? In San Francisco, garbage gets sent to a landfill outside the city. In Taoyuan, because Taiwan has a much higher population density than California, there is no space for landfills, so garbage is incinerated, which reduces air quality. Electricity – actually, in my experience, electricity was more reliable in Taoyuan than San Francisco, so I guess maybe Taoyuan did not ~always~ have inferior infrastructure.

Taoyuan was also lacking in some of the less obvious types of infrastructure. For example, San Francisco has a system to limit the number of stray cats, and the few stray cats who live in San Francisco tend to be relatively healthy. If Taoyuan had any kind of system to limit the number of stray cats, it was failing badly, and while I generally enjoyed watching the stray cats of Taoyuan, I could see that some of them were suffering.

Heck, the sidewalks of Taoyuan were so thoroughly awful that, even as an able-bodied person, I sometimes felt they were an obstacle course (and it is worse for people who are not able-bodied). I now have a much better appreciation of San Francisco’s sidewalks, and the local ordinances which require that sidewalks not be obstructed. I am also aware of the cost of such ordinances, since when the sidewalk outside our home was in such bad condition that it violated ordinances, my mother, as the property owner, had to pay for the repair.

And yet, the crappier level of infrastructure in Taoyuan did not ruin my life. Though it definitely helped that I lived in downtown Taoyuan, which meant that groceries, restaurants, my workplace, the library, and the train station were all within walking distance of my apartment – that allowed me to ignore most of the traffic congestion (though I still got tripped up – sometimes literally – by the crappy sidewalks). I was just as capable of attaining happiness and fulfilment in Taoyuan city as in San Francisco. I do not consider relatively crappy infrastructure to be as unspeakably awful as some of the anti-density activists imply. At the same time, I think it is something which needs to be considered, and something which the pro-density activists tend to not pay enough attention to.

In short, I agree with the anti-density people that increasing population density may lead to a crapification of at least some types of infrastructure. If increasing the population density of San Francisco brings enough benefits, I would be willing to accept a crapification of infrastructure – but the question of whether or not increasing population density brings substantial benefits is beyond the scope of this post.

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The Density Debate: Infrastructure (Part 1)

There has been a long, ongoing debate about population density in San Francisco, and whether or not it is a good thing to build lots of new housing and increase the population density. It is a complex subject with many nuances, so it would be impossible to do the subject justice in a single blog post. Thus, I am singling out one aspect: infrastructure.

First, I suggest at least quickly skimming this essay, which has a proposal for how to build a large number of homes in San Francisco for just $50,000 per unit. You may notice that it completely ignores the question of water, sewage, and electrical grids, though it does address transportation to some degree.

Meanwhile, I’ve seen a presentation by people who are strongly opposed to increasing the population density of San Francisco, and one of their major arguments is that San Francisco’s infrastructure is already at capacity. If we increased the population of the city without major investments in new infrastructure, they claimed, our infrastructure will fail. They especially focused on water, sewage, and transportation.

I’m going to make a gross simplification: with increasing population density, there are economies of scale for infrastructure, UNTIL a certain point is reached, and then there are diseconomies of scale (or more accurately, before the inflection point, economies of scale > diseconomies of scale, after the inflection point, economies of scale < diseconomies of scale).

To illustrate what I mean, I'm going to give a hypothetical example. Let's say there are a network of villages where nobody uses wheels, let alone any motorized vehicle, and there is also no water transportation, thus all travel is done by foot. Trails are the infrastructure which facilitate inter-village travel. If the population density is very low (villages don't have many people & are far apart) trail maintenance really is not worth the bother, it is better to just go cross-country when someone needs to get from one village to another. As the population density increases (more people in the vilages / villages closer together) the collective effort it takes to maintain trails is less than the collective effort it takes to travel cross-country, so it makes sense for the villages to break and maintain trails. As the population density gets higher, the trails get clogged with traffic, so it makes sense to break and maintain even more trails to accommodate the higher traffic. But if there are too many trails, the terrain becomes eroded, and the erosion threatens the villages' livelihood (it degrades the villages' water supplies or it threatens to bury the villages with landslides or something like that). Once it reaches the point where additional trails will cause destructive erosion, if the villages wish to preserve themselves, they either make do with trails that are clogged with traffic, or they limit inter-village travel.

I know that the people who designed San Francisco's water and sewage system thought that San Francisco might eventually have a million residents, and planned accordingly. Meanwhile, the water and sewage system is roughly a hundred years old, and the current population is about 880,000 (which actually blows my mind, because I always think of San Francisco as having a population of 750,000). Though I do not know enough about the workings of the water and sewage system of San Francisco to judge the claim 'San Francisco's water and sewage system is already maxed out', I think the claim is at least plausible.

Of course, a higher population would, presumably, increase the economic activity of San Francisco, and either through water & sewage bills or taxes, there would be more money for improving the water and sewage system. The question is, is the cost for expanding the capacity of the water and sewage system higher or lower than the economic benefit of having more people? And is there an inflection point where the marginal cost of accommodating more people with infrastructure shoots up?

Given how viciously expensive it is just to repair and maintain the current system, my guess is that any attempt to increase the capacity is going to be very costly. For one thing, California is prone to drought, and there is already intense competition for water in California, so increasing San Francisco's water supply beyond the water that San Francisco already has water rights for would be difficult (yes, San Francisco sells water to many other Bay Area communities – but even though San Francisco holds the water rights, the communities which buy water from San Francisco have very long-term contracts which would be difficult to break without serious consequences – and even if those contracts were broken, San Francisco would only be 'gaining' water by depriving other Bay Area communities of water). That is one reason why local groundwater is being added to the tap water supply – a lot of people are opposed because the local groundwater is much more polluted that the water from the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, but the local groundwater is the only additional supply of fresh water that San Francisco has an indisputable right to use.

Not all ways of increasing the capacity require ~building~ more infrastructure, but they still would come with high indirect costs. The simplest method is simply to impose strict water rationing, and as the population increases, to reduce the per-capita ration. That said, I think it is obvious that water rationing would impose numerous costs on residents.

Sometimes, I envy the water situation of Marin County, just north of San Francisco. Marin County is mostly self-sufficient in water – it has just about enough high-quality water within its borders to supply its residents (unlike San Francisco, which depends on water from the Sierra Nevada mountains), so its water system is much less entangled with other counties, and it is also less prone to drought than most parts of California. Marin County can only pull this off because it has a much lower population density than the highly-populated Bay Area counties – if Marin County's population substantially increased, it would also depend on water sources outside its own boundaries.

Sewage has its own issues. The Southeast Treatment Plant is old and basically at capacity, which is why partially untreated sewage is sometimes dumped into the bay. There are numerous ways to solve this problem, and all of them are damn expensive. Increasing sewage usage in the part of San Francisco served by the Southeast Plant would definitely make these problems worse. The plant is going through a multi-year renewal process, which is a) damn expensive and b) for the most part is just going to maintain current capacity, not dramatically increase capacity (for example, seismic retrofitting is necessary to prevent the sewage plant from being destroyed by the next big earthquake, but does not increase capacity). The Ocean Sewage Treatment Plant is newer and, as far as I know, not at max capacity, but it only serves about 20% of the population of San Francisco, and buildings can't be shifted from one sewage plant to the other because of San Francisco's geography (if it were possible to do so, I'm sure it would have already been done). If sewage were the most important matter, then this would be a strong argument for allocating all population increase to the catchment area of the Ocean Plant and not having any population increase in the Southeast Plant catchment area – but sewage is just one of many issues.

And that is just the sewage plants, not the sewers themselves. 60% of all sewers in San Francisco are 80+ years old, and some sewers date back to the 1860s and frequently fall into disrepair, stressing the whole system.

To make all of this EVEN MORE COMPLICATED, San Francisco is the only city in California (aside from the oldest part of Sacrameto) with a combined sewer system. That is because San Francisco has such a high population density that, unlike other cities in California, it could not afford to separate its sewage and stormwater systems, and that is a large part of why San Francisco sometimes dumps partially untreated sewage into the bay. Though combined sewer systems cause less water pollution than separated systems (except when the system is overwhelmed and partially untreated sewage is dumped in the bay) it is a system with higher maintenance costs.

This post is so long I split it into two parts, and I'm just ending Part 1 here because this is about halfway through the original post.

My Slowly Increasing Seniority in the Ace Community

This is a submission to the July 2018 Carvnival of Aces “Then and Now”.

It’s the kind of change which can really creep up on someone, but looking back, I feel the effects of my increasing seniority in the ace community.

First, an analogy to something more concrete.

I attended a small high school. That meant there was a lot of interaction between all grade levels – freshman (first year), sophomore (second year), junior (third year), and senior (fourth year). Often different grade levels would be mixed into the same classes – for example, since there was only a single physics class offered during my junior year, it was open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and we were all in the same physics class (it was not open to freshmen because students had to request to be put into the physics, and practically none of the incoming freshmen even understood how the classes at my high school were organized, let alone consider putting in a request to be placed in that rare physics class). Though it was uncommon, there were occasionally classes which were all four years mixed together.

The fact that there was so much mixing of grade levels meant that people of different grade levels had a lot of social interaction with each other, and thus one’s grade level was socially important. Everything else being equal, the higher one’s grade level, the higher one’s social rank. It was rare that students in the higher years would pick on the students in the lower years – that was Very Uncool (and on the rare occasions when outright bullying of students in lower years happened, the school administration would land on the bullies like a ton of bricks). It was more of a frame of mind thing than anything explicitly enforced.

Mostly, freshmen were new to high school and insecure in their position relative to their peers and the school in general. Seniors had generally figured out their place in high school, understood the school very well, and they were going to leave soon anyway so they cared less about trivial social matters, and from the outside this looked a lot like that the seniors were confident and had their shit together. As a freshman, I looked up to the seniors as the Awesome Beings Who Were Really Capable. When I became a senior myself, I was far from being an Awesome Being Who Was Really Capable, but I could fake it, at least in front of freshmen. Sophomores and juniors were in between the extremes of ‘freshman’ and ‘senior’.

One of the most memorable moments of my high school years was when I was a junior, and I was dealing with a freshman just a few weeks after the beginning of the school year. I could see how vulnerable he was, and how he looked up to me as a sparkly idol of how to be a high school student. I recognized that feeling because I had felt the same way towards juniors and seniors when I was a very fresh freshman, and I also felt at that moment that I was unworthy of being his sparkly idol, that I was merely a teenager who was slightly less confused than him. And that was also the moment I realized that the juniors and seniors who had gone before me were not actually sparkly idols, but teenagers who had been slightly less confused than me. It was as if someone had ripped a veil off my face and I found myself staring into a mirror.

The ace community is not organized on lines anywhere nearly as clear-cut as high school. We do not divide ourselves into ‘people who have identified as ace for less than a year’ ‘people who have identified as as for two years’ ‘people who have identified as ace for seven years’ etc. At ace meetings, I won’t say ‘hey, are you a fourth-year ace?’ However, I feel that the ace community also has a dynamic where one’s seniority within the ace community – i.e. how long one has considered oneself to be a member of the ace community – affects how we relate to each other.

Once upon a time, I was a baby ace. I was insecure and vulnerable in my ace identity. All of my interaction with the ace community was strictly passive. I think there were both advantages and disadvantages to not having active interactions with the ace community at that time. A lot of that passive interaction was reading blogs (and if you’re curious what blogs those were, this post gives you a good idea). Back then, the options for interacting with the ace community were much more limited than they are now (it was basically AVEN with a few very, very small groups on the side), but the main reason I kept my distance was a lack of confidence.

Then, I had my moment of sophomore arrogance. I had settled just enough into my ace identity that I felt I could stand up for myself – which meant that I went to the other extreme for a little bit, and thought I could SHOW THEM ALL with my ace brilliance, like a sophomore drunk on the power that comes with being a returning student instead of an incoming student (except the transfers – since I wasn’t a transfer, I won’t speak to that). I briefly had the ambition of not just starting an ace blog, but starting THE BEST ACE BLOG EVARRRRRRR!!!!! Fortunately, this moment of sophomore arrogrance passed quickly, because that would have been a recipe for burnout. It did push me to finally start this blog, which I deliberately made a low-key endeavour, even if that meant it would not turn into the best ace blog ever, so that I could keep it running for the long haul (and also, this has always been more of a ‘I want to write about this now’ blog than an ace blog, which is a large part of why I don’t burn out).

In the beginning, this blog was very obscure, and I was fine with that. It was only once I started participating in the Carnival of Aces – this very carnival I am submitting this post to – that this became noticed by the ace blogging community at large (yes, I know a few of you found this blog before that, and I appreciate you).

In the process of participating in the ace blogging community, I learned a LOT about asexuality as well as various other topics, and as I learned more, and became a little better known, I became even more confident, not strictly in my own personal identity, but also with my standing as a community member.

After I moved back to the United States, I also started participating in the ace community offline. By now, I’ve been going to local ace meetups for years.

There are two curious things I notice at this point in time.

To the extent I have status/rank/prestige in the ace blogging community, I believe it has more to do with the fact that I’ve been at this a long time than the quality of my posts. If you were to compare, say, my 5 best ace blog posts, and compare them to the 5 best ace blog posts of quite a few other ace bloggers past and present, my posts would look less impressive. But the quality of my posts is high enough to interest enough people, and I have been going at this for more than half a decade, and I don’t burn out (well, I sometimes get tired of writing about asexuality for a while, but then I write about something else, and then I get back to writing about asexuality) and I think that counts for a lot. All a high school freshman has to do to become a senior is pass the required classes and spend three years in high school.

The other curious thing is that, at offline meetups, I am often in the top fifth when it comes to people who have identified as ace the longest. I described in this post a bit of how I have become more secure as an ace over time. I feel that one of the disadvantages of that is that I am forgetting a bit of what it is like to be a ‘baby ace’ and I that I sometimes fail to show them enough consideration. There have been a few times in the past year when I have interacted with someone who has only recently been identifying as ace, and when I look back at those interactions in hindsight, I wish I had acted with a bit more sensitivity. This is a relatively new concern for me, and one I only became aware of once I started perceiving myself as someone who has been in the ace community longer than most members (though of course there are still many who have been participating in the ace community longer than I have).

I do not think seniority was nearly as big of a deal in the ace community ten years ago since back then there was hardly anybody who had been participating in the ace community more than a few years, if even that long. As the ace community continues to go one, I expect there will be more diversity in terms of how long someone has been in the community, and I expect the seniority dynamics will become more complex.

I’m hiking a few hundred miles again, in the mountains, whatever.

Last year was my first hundred-mile (160 km) hike, and it seemed like a big deal at the time. But by now that I have done two continuous 400+ mile hikes, it no longer feels like such a big deal.

And I’m doing it again.

Right now, I have a permit to go from Etna, California, to Tuolumne Meadows, California. That is more than 600 miles. I would like to go further south, but in order to do so (legally) I would need to get a John Muir Trail permit at Tuolumne Meadows, which may or may not happen. And a John Muir Trail permit would only get me as far as Mount Whitney, and while when I was planning this trip I was hoping to get as far as Walker Pass … in some ways, it would be better to end at Mount Whitney (it is much more epic/symbolic than Walker Pass) and in some ways it would be better to end at Walker Pass (public transportation), but right now I’m leaning towards ending at Mount Whitney.

For those of you who are not familiar with California geography, I’m going to spell it out – I am finally going to be hiking in the Sierra Nevada.

You see, I grew up in California, and backpacking/hiking has somehow become one my major hobbies, yet I have never hiked in the Sierra Nevada before (unlike you count my aborted hike at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada. Even though I know a zillion people get excited about hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains, for some reason, I am strangely chill about it. Maybe it is because I grew up within a few hours drive of the Sierra Nevada (even if I rarely visited), maybe the fact that everyone else gets so excited makes it harder for me to get excited, I don’t know. But I think it is a good thing not to try to get my expectations too high.

Since I am planning to hike 600-900 miles (depending on permits/itinerary), I think I will want a break. The most logical place to take a break would be Donner Pass, because that has the best transit connections. I could just return to San Francisco for my break, or I could simply go somewhere else. Right now, I am leaning towards visited Utah for a few days to break up my hike, since taking a train from the Donner Pass area to Salt Lake City would be fairly straightforward.

I was almost hoping I could complete all parts of the Pacific Crest Trail I have yet to hike this year. It now looks like that is not going to happen, and I’m okay with that. I’ve already done a good chunk of the PCT this year, and if I complete this chunk, then I will have hiked most of the California PCT, leaving only a few small bits of the California PCT and the Oregon PCT for me to hike next year.

What this means for this blog is that I have a whole bunch of canned posts coming up, so this blog will continue to update on a weekly basis while I am away from the internet. However, I will probably be very slow to respond to comments during the next few months.

Cold and Windy Spring in California

Cacti, in snow. I’ve posted this image before, but I’m posting it again because it is such a great symbol of my long hike in Southern California.

Going into my southern California hike, I was expecting to have problems with heat. After all, it got pretty warm during my week-long hike on the southern California Pacific Crest Trail last year – one day it got over 100 ºF (38 ºC). I was also concerned about finding shade, which is one of the reasons I went with a tarp which could be used for shade.

Yeah, there were a few brief times when the heat was uncomfortable (the warmest I ever got was on the lower part of my hike up San Jacinto), and a few stretches where shade was hard to come by (also on the ascent San Jacinto, actually) but it was cold temperatures and wind which gave me a lot more trouble during my hike.

The most extreme example of problems with cold weather was on the very first night, which I wrote about before. Thankfully, that did not repeat itself.

However, it also snowed on me while I was hiking through the San Bernardino mountains. Yes, it snowed on me while I was hiking in Southern California, in April. I even did a cowboy camp in the snow, which actually is not as bad as it sounds, especially since it got much warmer in the middle of the night.

Normally, hikers take a midday break in the shade. We were taking a midday break in the sun because it was ~that cold~ (and I am impressed that this guy had bare legs, because I never took my puffy jacket off at all this day). We were happy to see the sun come out, because it had been snowing an hour earlier.

Heck, I have calculated that I have spent more time in SNOWY weather in my PCT hikes in Southern California than I have in RAINY weather in my PCT hike of the entire state of Washington. For that matter, it was definitely colder on this Southern California hike than on my Washington hike – I never had a problem with any kind of cold night in Washington like I did in some parts of Southern California, and I definitely had more problems with heat in Washington. Heck, I experienced more rain during my two days in Texas than I did on my 30+ day hike through the Washington Cascades. I know that I did my Washington PCT hike during an unusual summer, but even so, whenever someone talks about how rainy Washington is, or how hot Southern California is, or how dry Central Texas is, I am going to be tempted to roll my eyes.

This was one of the water sources in the San Bernardino mountains. And yes, those are icicles.

And while I was going through part of Los Angeles county which was away from the coast and near the MOJAVE FREAKIN’ DESERT, a ‘marine layer’ came in a blanketed the mountain valleys with fog. First of all, it made the air surprisingly cold (though not quite as cold as what I later experienced in the San Bernardino mountains), some hikers got caught in rain (though I got lucky and pitched camp just outside the area which got rained on) and also, it was exactly was I was not expecting, especially since I had just come out of the Mojave desert.

Hills covered with chaparral with a blue sky and a valley filled with fog.

When I saw this in Los Angeles county, I was wondering if I had accidently walked all the way back to the San Francisco Bay Area.

And on top of all that, there was the wind.

Sometimes, the wind was nice, or scary, or nice and scary at the same time.

The day I descended from Inspiration Point (near Wrightwood) to Swarthout Canyon (near Cajon Pass) was extremely windy. On the one hand, this was nice, because east of the turnoff to Mount San Antonio there was little shade, but the wind kept me cool. On the other hand, some parts of the trail was in bad shape, and by ‘bad shape’ I mean that the trail was eroding and if I slid off the eroding trail I might have fallen down a long way, and the wind forcefully shoving against my body really did not help.

Going down to Cajon Pass. I know a lot of hikers hate the segment between Cajon Pass and Wrightwood, but it was one of the highlights of the trail for me. It definitely helped that I was going mostly downhill and I did not hike this on a hot day.

And the wind was still blowing really strong that night. All the other hikers I met were desperately looking for a sheltered spot, but there were no sheltered campsites, the only fully protected place to sleep was the Best Western Inn in Cajon Pass and a) that was too far for me to reach unless I wanted to push my body very hard and b) it cost more than I wanted to pay. I know that a lot of hikers spend the night in Swarthout Canyon because it is in a convenient location just five miles from Cajon Pass, but the night I was there I was the only hiker, and it was damn windy. Fortunately, I found the single most protected place near the trail within the canyon. It was a bush which blocked about half of the wind. I literally slept under the bush.

This is the wonderful bush which sheltered me from the wind in Swarthout Canyon.

The worst wind was the day I arrived in Big Bear Lake. It as not so bad when I was hiking, since I was not going through any particularly steep or eroded areas, except for the spot which had the whirling dust storms. But when I got to the highway, there was no shelter from the fierce wind, so I had to wait in the wind and practically shout at the other hikers when I was talking to them (but I was lucky to have a guaranteed ride instead of hitchhiking, so I don’t want to complain).

Here is some dead cactus I saw on that very windy morning.

Once I was in town, even though it was a sunny day, nobody wanted to be outside until they absolutely had to go out because the wind was that bad. In the evening, it was so windy that it was physically difficult just to walk down the street to get dinner. I was very happy to be sleeping inside a building with four walls that night – though I was lucky to get a space in the hostel, since that day a lot of hikers decided they would rather extend their stay another night rather than hike (or camp) in such harsh conditions. The next morning, somebody said that, in TOWN (not on the trail, which is higher up in the mountains), the wind had gotten to be as much as 100 mph (160 kph), and the temperature had gone as low as 21 ºF (-6 ºC). I later met a hiker who had camped out that night, and the wind had damaged her tent. Other hikers did not dare pitch their tents that night, but that meant that they had to endure the cold and windy night without a tent to protect them.

On the plus side, due to the cold temperatures and abundance of March snowstorms, I happened to pass through the Angeles National Forest at a time when the forest rangers were actually permitting campfires. The locals tell me that the forest rangers almost never permit campfires. I did not have a fire permit, but on the coldest night I was in the Angeles Forest, I happened to camp with some hikers who did have the fire permit, so they started a totally legal campfire. I enjoyed the warmth.

It was not just a cold spring in southern California, it was also a colder-than-average late spring up in the San Francisco Bay Area as well. Normally, it is difficult to grow carrots in San Francisco, but this spring, the local garden where I volunteer had the largest crop of carrots ever because the weather had been so cold. And it’s not just San Francisco – the local farmers’ markets are overflowing with carrots because vegetable farmers all over northern California have had a great carrot harvest due to the low spring temperatures.

I suppose the lesson here is that I should never trust the ‘reputation’ a particular region has when it comes to weather. If I had known the weather was going to be like this, I probably would have chose gear less suited for sun/heat and more suited for cold. But I guess unexpected weather makes life more interesting, and my gear worked well enough anyway.

I plan to stay overnight in all of the counties of California

One of the many cool things about travelling along the Pacific Crest Trail is that it guides me to visit parts of California I never paid much attention to before (for example, I didn’t know that San Bernardino county had its own mountain range before, let alone that the San Bernardino mountain range has the highest mountains in southern California). This has whetted my appetite for getting a broader understanding of the various corners of California.

In Taiwan, I dutifully visited every single county, and stayed overnight at least once in most of them, which was not so hard since Taiwan has only 11-18 counties (the number depends on how one defines ‘county’ and ‘Taiwan’ and if you really care about understanding this go to Wikipedia).

California does not have nearly as confusing a system for classifying counties as Taiwan, so I can say that California has 58 counties without qualifications. On the other hand, that is a lot of counties. I cannot even name them all off the top of my head (whereas I can name all of the counties in Taiwan off the top of my head). However, it would be cool to have the same experiential grasp of California geography as I have of Taiwanese geography, and I think the best way to do that would be to go to every single county in California.

But what counts as having been in a particular county? I don’t think passing through a county on a road is enough to ‘count’. Even a day trip does not feel like it would be enough. There as also places in California which I visited when I was very young and I barely remember them. Thus, in order for a county to ‘count’, I need to distinctly remember staying overnight in the county. If I can remember what year I stayed in the county and why I was there, that counts as ‘distinctly’ remembering it.

Here is a map of California, and I have shaded in all of the counties where I distinctly remember staying overnight at least once.

A map of California with San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Orange, Yolo, Santa Clara, Placer, Trinity, San Luis Obispo, Shasta, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, Kern, Siskiyou, San Bernardino counties shaded in.

First of all, I find it amusing that this map makes it look like I am much better travelled in Southern California than the San Francisco Bay Area, when that is not the case at all. This is partially because the Southern California counties are so big because most of the county boundaries were determined in the decades after the gold rush when the Sierra Nevada mountains had a relatively high population and southern California had a relatively low population (nowadays it is the complete opposite, which is why Los Angeles county is still a single county in spite of having more land AND a bigger population than San Francisco / Marin / Contra Costa / Alameda / Santa Clara / San Mateo combined, and why the Sierra Nevada has so many counties in spite of having a small population). Also, all of the Bay Area counties are so close to San Francisco that I can visit them all on day trips. Thus, in the Bay Area, only San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, and Santa Clara are shaded in. I have only stayed overnight in Marin because of camping trips, and I have only stayed overnight in Sonoma because of an overnight elementary school trip. I lived in Santa Clara county in my late teens, though by far my most ~distinctly~ memorable night in Santa Clara county was before I lived there – the night of December 31, 1999.

But what is the most funny is that Alameda county … is not shaded in. Yet. I’ve lived in Alameda county for more than a year, I’ve visited Alameda county way more times than I can count, I have more living relatives in just BERKELEY than EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE UNITED STATES WEST OF MISSOURI COMBINED, I have probably visited Alameda county more than any other county in California other than Santa Clara county, heck I WAS BORN IN ALAMEDA COUNTY, and yet, I cannot distinctly ever staying overnight in Alameda county, and thus I cannot honestly shade it in.

I could just ask one of my cousins in Berkeley if I could stay at their house for one night, but since there is a two-day trail in Alameda county which has caught my interest, I plan to go camping instead.

Yes, one of the reasons I went to San Clemente was so that I could scratch off Orange County on my bucket list.

A lot of these counties which are currently shaded are counties where I have only stayed overnight because of trips on the Pacific Crest Trail. Heck, I stayed in Kern, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties overnight for the first time ~this very calendar year~ because of my long section hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. One of the main reasons I decided to stay in San Clemente on my way back home is so that I would be able to stay overnight in Orange County (I also wanted to arrange to stay in Imperial County, but that turned out to be impractical, so I guess I will save it for my next trip to Southern California).

And hopefully I am going to shade in a lot more counties on my upcoming Pacific Crest Trail hike this summer through Northern California and Central California, yes I am going on the Pacific Crest Trail again this summer, are any of you surprised?

I am bad at predicting my future, so I stopped trying

A recent theme for the Carnival of Aces was “All the birds but us…” which led to a lot of discussion in the ace blogging community about our expectations for our personal future. Of course during that month I was hiking, so my thoughts about the future were generally along the lines of ‘Maybe I will reach that campsite in two hours’ or ‘I think I will get to town in three days’ or ‘Tomorrow I am going to get water from that bad water source’ or, if I was thinking really far ahead, I would think ‘when I get back to San Francisco, I will do [x].’ To run with the bird metaphor, long-distance hikers in the middle of a long-distance hike are birds in the middle of a migration, so obviously there is no nesting.

But in a more general way, I do not have a good track record when it comes to guessing my own future more than a year or two out. True, when I was a kid, it was a safe guess that after I graduated from elementary school, I would go to middle school, and that after graduating middle school, I would attend high school, but I was bad at guessing anything less predictable than that.

If you had asked me when I was sixteen what I was going to do two years later, I would have told you ‘I’m going to be a student at one of the University of California campuses in southern California so that I can get as far away from San Francisco as possible while still benefiting from in-state tuition.’ Spoiler: I have never been a student at any campus of the University of California, nor did I go to southern California AT ALL during my years of higher education, not even for a brief visit.

If, during my third year in higher education, you had suggested that after graduation I would be moving to Taoyuan I would have responded ‘where the hell is that?’ and if you had explained that it is in Taiwan, my response would have been ‘why the heck would I visit Taiwan, let alone live there for years?’ In fact, someone did suggest towards the end of my third year of higher education that I could move to Taiwan, and I totally brushed him off at the time. Spoiler: after I graduated from college, I moved to Taiwan and stayed there for years.

There is an example where being aseuxal/aromantic is relevant. When I was middle school, I wasn’t attracted to anybody in a sexual or romantic way, but I assumed it would happen if I met the right person, so I was expecting to meet someone who I would find attractive in high school and he would become my boyfriend (because I expected this person to be male). Spoiler: it did not happen.

Nowadays, I accept that I am bad at predicting my own future, and I no longer try to imagine my long-term future very hard. I still have vague ideas of things I would like to do one day, I do have some multi-year goals (such as ‘see every Shakespeare play on stage live at least once), and I even prepare for the future in a non-specific way. For example, even if I don’t know what I will be doing in the future, I am guessing that having money will be useful, and ‘I will probably want money in the future’ definitely influences the financial decisions I make today.

Will I live in San Francisco for forty more years? Maybe. Will I move to New York in two years and never ever live in California again? Maybe. Will I discover that squash is the most awesome sport ever and suddenly immerse myself in the squash world? Maybe (as of now, I have never seen a squash match, nor do I even know the rules of squash). I am not trying to imagine any future more than a year or two out, and I’m okay with that.