I liked walking 500+ miles so much that I’m doing it again.

It probably surprises nobody who has been reading this blog in the past year that I am planning to go do another long trip on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

This spring, I plan to walk approximately 550 miles from Walker Pass to Warner Springs/Barrel Spring (I am undecided on whether I will end in Warner Springs or Barrel Spring, but they are only about 10 miles apart from each other, but I definitely intend to end my hike in a place called ‘Spring(s)’ this spring). Walker Pass is technically in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and is the southernmost road crossing of the Sierra, and is in Kern County. Barrel Spring is where I started my hike last spring, and is in San Diego county.

Last year was an exceptionally wet year in Southern California. When I was in Campo, one of the locals commented that they had never seen Campo Creek still flowing at the end of April before (it was flowing quite well, in fact). There was also a snowstorm in early May last year. By contrast, this looks like it’s going to be a drought year, though even in drought years it can snow in May (i.e. it is very possible that I will encounter a snowstorm).

Some things will make this hike different from both my hike last year in San Diego and my 500+ mile hike through Washington:

– Off-peak season – so far, I have only hiked the PCT during peak hiking season. However, because I am going southbound, and I am starting at the gateway to the Sierra, for the first couple weeks I will be hiking during the off-season. For example, I estimate it will take me about 6 days to walk from Walker Pass to Tehachapi Pass (my first resupply point). This is a section of the PCT which is unpopular with anyone who is not trying to hike at least a large portion of the PCT, and I will be there before the thru-hikers are there. Since somebody has been updating the PCT Water Report this year, there are a few people out there, but I might not see them. Maybe I will run into the very few people who hike this trail before the thru-hiker tsunami, or maybe I will not see a single person other than myself for five days. If I run into other people, that would be awesome (assuming they do not have harmful intentions). If I go five days without seeing another human – that will be tough for me psychologically.

Though I am most concerned about the psychological impact of not seeing any people, there is also the practical aspect that I will be cut off from the hiker grapevine. The hiker grapevine is an amazing (albeit unreliable) source of useful information, but without other hikers, there is no grapevine. On the other hand, once I get far enough south to meet the northbound thru-hikers, I will receive an abundance of information, just as I did last year.

Then again, I underestimated how many hikers I was going to run into in Washington, so I may be underestimating again. If so, great.

– Water – did I mention that this is looking like a drought year? Also, Walker Pass to Tehachapi Pass is the driest section on the entire PCT. It contains the infamous 40+ mile stretch between reliable water sources (and that is no doubt one reason this section is so unpopular). I’m hoping there will be some unreliable water sources (though, of course, I’m not going to rely on them), and that the temperatures will be lower (because I am starting in Walker Pass, and thus getting there earlier), but even with some unreliable water sources and milder temperatures, it’s going to be rough. So far, the longest waterless stretch I’ve hiked on the PCT was 14 (downhill) miles.

(grumbling: I keep reading things like ‘ZOMG, hikers in the 70s and 80s managed to hike the PCT without water caches/water reports/blah blah blah, and they did just fine, hikers today are so spoiled.’ Yes, but in the 70s and 80s, the trail was not complete, and the ~temporary~ PCT between Tehachapi Pass and Walker Pass went through an area which had more water sources than what became the permanent PCT. The trail planners must have had a compelling reason to route the permanent PCT through such a dry area, though I don’t know what that reason is).

– Snow. One of the things which is harder about hiking the Southern California PCT (compared to the Sierra PCT, the Oregon PCT, or the Washington PCT) is that one day you could be hiking on a hot day through a waterless stretch in the desert, and the next day you could be freezing your ass off as you exhaust yourself slowly making way through some @$#@$^# snow (the Northern California PCT can also be challenging like this). Even a section hiker myself has trouble timing my trip because of this problem (given that I don’t want to do short sections). By choosing the time I did, I was making a bet that this would be a low snow year, and it looks like I’m winning my bet.

That said, there are a few areas where I am worried that I may run into snow on trail. I have chosen to take microspikes (which I have never used before, but whatever) but I am not going to take GPS. If I can’t figure it out with a map and compass, I’ll turn around. There are some infamous problem areas (I’m looking at you, Mt. Baden-Powell and Fuller Ridge) where I will take alternate routes if the snow is impeding my travel.

When I am out there (which is not quite yet), this blog will continue to update with scheduled posts I wrote in advance, but I will be very slow to respond to comments.

I’m not sure what will happen during this hike, but I doubt it will be boring. Okay, maybe I will be a little bored after seeing endless chaparral, but I will probably be too exhausted to be bored by anything.


Identity? What’s That?

This is a submission to the January 2018 Carnival of Aces.

If one is going to distinguish between ‘labels’ and ‘identity’ rather than conflate them, then I have this to say – I find labels a heck of a lot more useful than ‘identity’. Whatever that is.

Yes, I know, I sometimes speak of myself as ‘identifying as asexual’ or something along those lines. When I say that, I mean ‘self-label as asexual’.

Labels are communication tools. They are imperfect, but they also work, at least sometimes. When I ‘identify as’ something, or rather ‘self-label’ as something, I’m trying to communicate a message of some kind.

Alternatively, labels can also be useful as analytical tools, such as trying to understand other people’s behavior. I have found putting some people in the ‘allosexual’ category and some people in the ‘asexual’ category very useful.

Independent of an intention to communicate something, or to interpret other people’s behavior, I’m not sure I identify as anything beyond ‘I am what I am’.

Recently, I’ve come to think that this might be a reflection of my own personality.

I’ve recently taken a couple of online gender tests, such as this one. On both tests I got similar results – I am ‘undifferentiated’ and have low levels of both masculinity and femininity (if I had high levels of both masculinity and femininity I would be ‘androgynous’). I suspect these tests may not be compatible with my personality because of the way they are set up. For example, in the test I linked, one has the options of agreeing/disagreeing on a scale of five (with the center being neither agreeing nor disagreeing). Guess what? On most of the ‘questions’ I picked the center option. For example, one question asks whether I’m ‘likeable’? Ummm, how would I know that? That’s something other people know about me, not necessarily something I know about myself. I answered ‘neither agree or disagree’ but if there had been an option ‘wtf is this question?’ I would have selected that instead.

On the other hand, maybe these gender tests are spot on in measuring me. Maybe I have a more pronounced tendency toward not defining myself than most people. Maybe that even extends to my gender. Yes, I identify as ‘female’, but why? It is just because everyone tells me I’m female, and I don’t have a problem with that because my ‘true’ gender is undifferentiated, and I’m so used to it that it jars me whenever someone marks me as male. Or do I have some innate sense of femaleness that would exist independently of other people’s evaluations? I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t care much because either way it would not make much difference in my life.

When I share travel photos with other people, one of the most common questions I get are ‘why aren’t there any pictures of you?’ (I rarely take photos of myself while travelling, and when I do, it’s sometimes just to please my family). Though I don’t say this aloud (or at least I don’t phrase it this way), my thoughts are ‘if you want to see me, I’m right here, but this waterfall isn’t here, so look at my photo.’

Waterfall on Delate Creek in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington

Some people say they take selfies because they want to ‘prove’ they were in a place. I’m generally uninterested in proving that I was in a particular place (though on the rare occasion I take photos of myself while travelling, it tends to be in places like the USA/Canada border, so maybe I do have a small ‘I was here’ impulse). For me, travel is about experiencing a place, not experiencing ~myself~ in a place. It’s about the waterfall, not me.

Anyway, how does this relate to asexuality?

Asexuality is relevant to me primarily in how it affects how I relate people, whether in direct interaction, or indirect interactions such as reading a book written by another person. When I’m in a cabin at least 10 miles away from the nearest human being, and I have no means of communicating with another human being (let’s say that remote cabin has no cell phone service and I didn’t bring any books with me) asexuality is not relevant to me. It’s still part of who I am, but in the absence of other people, I feel no need to differentiate my (a)sexuality from the general amorphous mass of ‘I am what I am’.

So, yeah. I am what I am. Which happens to be ace.

Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 3

So, as I mentioned in Part 1, I now have a new mattress.

Why is portability one of the features I most want in a bed?

One reason is that I relied on a portable bed this summer, and I grew to like it. I’ve gone on backpacking trips before, but never for an entire month before, so I settled more into that way of sleeping. My ‘sleep system’ (sleeping bag + sleeping pad + tent + “pillow”) needed to be portable because I was literally carrying it with me for hundreds of miles (my pillow, by the way, was whatever I had on hand which I could put in a stuff sack under my head. Usually, it was my rain gear. I used to use paperback books, and in the future, I think I’ll go back to paperback pillows).

When my sleeping bag is in the compression sack (shown on the left in this picture), it is slightly smaller than a basketball. The sleeping bag weighs about 2 pounds (less than 1 kg), though the compression sack itself adds a few ounces. The compression sack means the sleeping bag only takes a modest amount of space in my pack, leaving more space for other stuff. The silver/yellow thing the middle of the picture is my sleeping pad, which weighs 10 ounces (about 280 grams). Since the pad takes a lot of space, it rides outside of the pack, not inside. This sleeping bag + sleeping pad is a very portable ‘bed’.

Between July 24 and August 29, I only slept in beds for three nights.

My bed at home, as I described in the first post, turned out to be even less comfortable than my sleeping bag. So why was I sleeping in the bed rather than my sleeping bag?

In a broader sense, both my travels in Japan and my backpacking trips have given me a taste for simplicity in my beds. Bed frames? Not necessary, and a hassle.

The other reason I care so much about portability is that, sooner or later, all beds have to be moved. I had to move out all five of the mattresses and the bed frame, and except for the lightest of the five mattresses, I needed help. And my dad is the one who helped me. He is currently transitioning from able-bodied to disabled. He was capable of helping me this time, and I’m grateful for that, but I cannot depend on him in the future. I could also ask neighbors to help, but I would prefer not to depend on them either. Thus, it made sense to get rid of this bed now, while my dad is physically capable of helping me, and to replace it with a bed I can move all by myself.

By the way, my dad has been talking for at least half a year about replacing his own bed, and portability is also one of his top concerns.

I didn’t remove all of the mattresses in one day. I peeled them off, like layers. One of the reasons they did not go in one day is that they have to be stored in the front room or the basement, and it took time to find space for all of them.

Two of the mattresses were western-style futons. And both of them had evidence of mold. Yep, I had been sleeping on moldy mattresses. One of those futons is older than I am – my dad says he had it before he even know my mother. Futons, even with good maintenance, generally will not last more than twenty years, and my dad admits that he did not maintain them properly.

Another mattress was a feather mattress which is just about as old as I am – my dad bought it when I was born. Like the futon mattresses, it had not been properly maintained, which was why it was all clumpy and generally not very useful as a mattress anymore. It is possible to restore feather mattresses, but it also has a tear which leaks feathers, which would have needed to be repaired before restoration. Plus, it probably has some flame retardants in it, albeit a lot less than foam mattresses (my dad said the reason he chose a feather mattress was that he thought it would probably be the less toxic than other types of mattresses, and sadly, in the 1980s, he was probably right). Ultimately, it was in such bad shape that it was not worth saving.

I was a bit concerned about what gross things I would find *under* my bed after I removed the mattresses and bed frame. I was relieved that it turned out to be more interesting than disgusting. I found old pieces of homework from when I was in high school.

Anyway, back to futons, mold, and maintenance.

One of the things I learned from camping is that live humans are humidifiers. If you put a live human in a small enclosed space, unless it already has an extremely high humidity, the human is going to dramatically increase the humidity. This is why condensation is such a common problem in tents.

If you put a live human on top of a futon (or any mattress, but I’m talking about futons now) then you have basically put a humidifier on top of the futon. The futon is going to suck body moisture from the human. This is why it’s generally recommended that (western-style) futons are places on slatted bed frames, or frames designed for futons. With a proper frame, the air below the mattress will allow the moisture to escape. But if you put the futon on a hard surface – like a floor – then the moisture will be trapped. And trapped moisture invites mold.

Back in the day, my dad didn’t think it was important to put the futon on a frame, so he just put it on the floor. He says that he remembers being surprised by how moist it was.

And my new shiki futon is made almost entire of cotton – and cotton tends to absorb and retain moisture even better than most textiles (which is why many long-distance hikers consider cotton to be the fabric of death, not ‘the fabric of our lives’).

Oh, and I am not using a bed frame.

On top of all that, I live in a building built in 1908 in San Francisco.

I am going to deal with this the Japanese way. Traditionally, futons are rolled up or folded during the day so there is more living space. Ideally, one would air-hang the futon every day, but few people do that. Even the process of rolling/folding the futon when it’s not in use helps it dry out. Rolling also stretches the cotton batting which helps it retain its shape. I plan to periodically flip the mattress, and once in a while (as in, maybe twice a year) drying the mattress outside in the sun.

It takes me about 10 seconds to roll the mattress, and 5 seconds to unroll it. That’s a quarter of a minute of labor per day.

There is my new mattress, rolled up, next to the goza mats (note: my mattress is inside an old mattress protector my family purchased in the 1990s – since the old mattress protector is still good, I saw no need to replace it. Besides, the Chinese characters fit the washiku aesthetic. The new mattress is the color of undyed natural cotton).

Another step I’ve taken is that I am not putting the mattress directly on the floor. I’ve gotten some igusa goza mats. Igusa is a type of rush grass which has been used in Japan for centuries. Though it can trigger allergies for some people, it’s nontoxic and biodegradable. It has a distinct smell (which I like) and it pulls moisture. Thus, it will take some of the moisture out of the mattress, and when the mattress is rolled and removed, the igusa can release the moisture back into the air.

I was originally thinking of using tatami mats instead of goza mats. But tatami mats have a few problems:

1) Nowadays, most tatami mats contain particle board, and most types of particle board release toxic fumes. I’m not always against particle board, but I don’t want it where I sleep.
2) The traditional tatami mats which are filled with rice straw instead of particle board are very heavy, and thus not so portable.
3) Tatami mats, especially high quality tatami mats, are very expensive.
4) Tatami mats, like futons, require good maintenance, otherwise they will also get moldy. I remember once staying at a place in Japan with nasty tatami mats. They were so nasty that I was allowed to walk on them with my shoes on (this is almost never permitted in Japan). I did not mind because I got a private space with a permanent roof over my head for just 800 yen per night (that is about 8 USD per night). It helped me appreciate what happens when tatami mats are not maintained.

Goza mats are much cheaper, are primarily made of igusa (rather than being igusa filled with particle board or rice straw), are lightweight, and are easy to air out. Yes, I had to spend about a hundred USD to get the goza mats, but if they help keep the mattress in good condition, it’s worth it. And I like having some barrier between the mattress and the floor.

And the goza mats I bought were made in Taiwan, the only place I’ve ‘lived’ outside of the San Francisco Bay Area. I think that complements my made-in-San-Francisco mattress very well.

(Update: after less than two months of using the goza mats, I discovered one of them had some mold. That was fast. I cleaned it with vinegar. Meanwhile, my mattress shows no signs of moistness or mold. Maybe the goza mats are doing their job and sucking the moisture out of the mattress?)

Does my new mattress contain any flame retardants? What’s happening to my old mattresses? What about my pillow? These questions will be answered in Part 4.

(Spoiler: my new mattress does contain a flame retardant, and I’m actually okay with that.)


Odyssey of a New Bed, Part 2

The simplest of all beds is the ground. But what is ‘the ground’? That depends on where you are. ‘The ground’ could be soil covered with dry grass, a sandy beach, a slab of flat rock, etc.

While there is no doubt that ‘the ground’ is the cheapest, simplest, and lowest tech bed of them all, there are three main problems. The first problem is cleanliness, though that is going to depend on what ‘ground’ we are talking about, as well as how much one cares about ‘cleanliness’. The second problem is that the ground may be hard and apply a lot of pressure to certain points of the body, which can especially be a problem for side sleepers (and even ground which is initially soft may compact over time). The third problem – and this is the doozy – is that the ‘ground’ is a heat sink. In warm temperatures, that’s not a problem. In cooler temperatures, it’s very uncomfortable, and in cold temperatures, lying directly on the ground can cause hypothermia and death.

This is a photo of the corner of the bedroom where I roll out my goza mats and mattress right before I cleaned the walls (the walls look whiter now than they do in this picture)

The floor of my bedroom is not exactly the ground. It is made of hardwood, is above a basement room full of (unheated) air, which is on top of the foundation, which is on the ground. However, even though it’s removed from the ground, the floor of my bedroom is still enough of a heat sink that sleeping directly on it in cool/cold weather is not going to happen.

Unless one lives in a climate where it is always warm at night, one has to sleep on a surface which is not a heat sink. There are basically only two ways to do this: heating, and insulation.

There are of course multiple ways to heat a sleeping surface. One could heat the air around the sleeping surface. However, it is generally most efficient just to directly heat the sleeping surface, such as in the traditional kang bed-stoves of Northern China and Manchuria (which are typically made of brick or clay) or traditional ondol floors in Korea. When the sleeping surface is heated, one wants a surface which can retain heat for an entire night, hence the preference for brick/clay/stone/etc.

Yang Guo lies on the cold jade bed, and Xiaolongnü prepares to sleep on a rope.

In a novel I sometimes mention in this blog, there is a ‘cold jade bed’ which, though very uncomfortable, will develop one’s nèigōng (inner power). I’m no expert of traditional Chinese medicine or martial arts, but my guess is that the body is learning to resist the heat sink effect of sleeping on a cold stone bed and thus building nèigōng. This is, of course, fiction; in real life this is a recipe for hypothermia.

Jade beds are real. I’ve lain on a jade bed in Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, though that was in a heated bathhouse. There are also heated kang beds made of jade (which I am sure are extremely expensive).

So that’s heated surfaces. What about insulation instead of (or complemented with) heating?

I know that some people who camp in forests create ‘beds’ out of duff (fallen leaves, pine needles, cones, etc.) which is a very low-tech type of insulation. A higher-tech type of insulation commonly used in camping are portable sleeping pads, which may be made of foam, or inflatable air pockets (essential a small air mattress), or polyester, or any other lightweight insulating material which will insulate even under the weight of human being. If one does not need great portability, and has a wider choice of materials than forest duff, then there are a lot more possibilities for insulating material.

This is the only place I’ve ever done ‘cowboy camping’ (so far). ‘Cowboy camping’ is sleeping outside without a shelter. The white thing in the center-left is my groundsheet, and the silver-yellow thing in the center of the picture is my foam sleeping pad. The sleeping pad was the main insulation I had from the ground this night.

Another thing one can do is to lift the bed up so that there is air between the sleeping surface and the floor. Air is an insulator, so this helps, but if the air flows it’s also going carry heat away as it flows. Thus one either needs to trap the air (this is what an air mattress does, and foam with air pockets does this too) or use an insulator which is not going to flow away.

My new mattress is an excellent insulator. It provides all of the insulation I need to avoid losing my body heat to the floor of my bedroom, and it also does not flow away and take my body heat with it.

That leaves the problems of hardness and cleanliness. And a bed needs to provide something else – support. Most types of ground provide excellent support, but if one is not sleeping directly on the ground, then support may become an issue. While the rope which Xiaolongnü in the picture up there sleeps on is an extremely simple bed, it does not provide nearly enough support, unless one has superhuman qīnggōng like Xiaolongnü (wuxia fiction is not known for having realistic depictions of sleeping technology, okay? Pity, I’d be curious to try out the addictively comfortable bed in Happy Heroes, though it’s probably a good thing that best does not exist since I might never want to leave.)

Generally, firmer surfaces provide better support, and softer surfaces provide worse support. Furthermore, a surface which contours to the body provides more even (and thus better) support, and a surface which does not contour to the body provides less even (and thus worse) support. Ideally, one would sleep on a firm surface which contours to the body.

My new mattress provides a lot of support (which ultimately comes from my bedroom floor) while contouring to my body better than the floor would. However, while I think it strikes a good balance, it’s not perfect.

And as I mentioned in the previous post, because it’s easy to roll up and only about 30 lb (14 kg), it is a very portable mattress.

Why is portability an important feature to me? What disgusting discoveries did I make when I removed the five mattresses which formed my old ‘bed’? What will I do to keep my new mattress usable for years? The answers to these questions will be in Part 3.


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.


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.