Departing Denali

Here is my laptop, inside my tent, in Denali National Park, with the first draft of this post on the screen.

I wrote the first draft of this blog post while sitting in my tent at Riley Creek Campground during my last evening in Denali National Park. (I’ve never written a blog post inside my tent before). Tomorrow, I leave the park, and will probably never return in my lifetime.

I arrived in Denali National Park on May 24 and left on May 29. I spent four full days in the park partially because I wanted to sit out Memorial Day weekend and partially because I wanted to maximize my chances of actually seeing Denali, the highest point in North America. I was lucky: I saw Denali on three different days (though on one of those days only the north peak was visible).

This is a photo from the first time I saw Denali (it’s the snowiest mountain).

In addition to seeing Denali itself, my other aspiration was to expose myself to ecological landscapes I have never experienced before: boreal forest and subarctic tundra. Lucky me, I got to do this. Continue reading

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Is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up a Book about Ultralight Backpacking?

While I was reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, I was frequently reminded of ideas from ultralight backpacking. And as I follow various discussions of the ‘KonMari’ method online (and offline – no, I didn’t bring it up, other people mentioned it first), a lot of it sounds very similar to the various (and eventually repetitive) discussions around ultralight backpacking.

Here is a quick overview of ultralight backpacking: carrying weight on a long journey on foot, especially if it involves mountains / rough terrain / stream crossings / etc. really sucks. It takes more energy, it makes bodies feel more sore, it reduces mobility/nimbleness, it reduces speed, and generally, nobody wants to carry weight. However, people who are going to spend multiple nights on a trail need to carry some things, such as food, something to keep them warm while they sleep, etc. and since these things generally will not fit into pockets, one needs a backpack to carry these things. In short, weight increases the physical costs of backpacking, and generally people want to only carry things which bring enough value to justify the physical cost.

(Bulk also imposes a cost by taking up more space in a pack, but backpackers are generally more interested in reducing weight than bulk, especially since bulk and weight are often correlated.)

The ‘ultralight’ movement in backpacking got started in the 1990s – the beginning of the movement is often attributed to Ray Jardine. It was possible to reduce the weight of backpacking gear partially because of technological advances, but the main change is that backpackers asked what was really necessary or only being used due to outdoor cultural conventions, and then they systematically went through their gear, asking themselves whether or not they needed everything, whether a lighter thing could serve the same function, and so forth.
Continue reading

Hiking the Ohlone Trail in June, Day 3: Journey to Livermore

Sunrise the morning I left Boyd Camp

At Boyd Camp, I only had a few miles left of the official Ohlone Trail, and they were all downhill! After the work my legs did the previous day, this seemed pretty great.

On the left you can see Mount Diablo, and on the right you can see Del Valle Reservoir.

It turned out that it was a viciously steep downhill on a road. I suppose it was still easier than trying to go up than hill, but getting down still required an effort. And in contrast to the previous day when I practically saw no people, this morning I ran into a few people who were doing early morning exercise things. Continue reading

Hiking the Ohlone Trail in June, Day Two: Though I’m in the Bay Area, There Are No People

In Part One, I embarked on my hike of the Ohlone Trail in Alameda County, and reached Sunol Backpacking Camp. In this part, I describe my hike from there to Boyd Camp.

When I woke up at camp, I got to see a lot of fog in the Sunol Valley.

I was surprised when I looked out at the Sunol Valley in the morning. Fog! And the forest below the camp looked almost lush. Continue reading

Hiking the Ohlone Trail in June, Day One: Into the Wilderness of the East Bay Hills

Under a blue sky, rolling hills are covered by yello dry grass with some patches of green oak trees.

This is what the East Bay (that is, the eastern side of the San Francisco Bay) looks like in summer. Even though Alameda county has a population of 1.6 million people, a lot of it is still like this.

This June, I hiked the entire length of the Ohlone Trail. I had several goals: 1) I did not distinctly remember staying overnight in Alameda County even though I know I’ve spent many nights there 2) I had just finished sewing my net-tent and I wanted to test it out before hiking a few hundred miles with it and 3) I wanted to prepare myself physically for hiking a few hundred miles.
Continue reading

Nobody Needs to Change Their Name When They Marry

The essay “Why Don’t More Men Take Their Wives’ Last Names?” at The Atlantic opens like this:

In the run-up to marriage, many couples, particularly those of a more progressive bent, will encounter a problem: What is to be done about the last name?

Some have attempted work-arounds: the Smiths and Taylors who have become Smith-Taylors, Taylor-Smiths, or—more creative—Smilors. But there just isn’t always a good, fair option. (While many straight couples fall back on the option of a woman taking her husband’s last name, same-sex couples have no analogous default.)

Notice the option not mentioned? Nobody changing their surname upon marriage. And nowhere does the essay mention the possibility (except in the most indirect way). I suppose there may a situation where each spouse keeping their original surname is not a “good, fair option” but I cannot think of any such situation.

(I have since learned that both the essay writer and her fiancé intend to keep their original surnames when they marry, so she obviously knows that it is an option. The only reason I can think of that she did not bring it up in the essay is because she was trying to keep the word count low.)

I’ve spent several years in Taiwan, where (except for some indigenous people and foreigners) practically nobody changes their surname when they marry. And quite a bit of the fiction I’ve read in the past decade has been in Chinese and set in societies where, not only do people not change their surnames when they marry, they don’t even think about changing their surnames when they marry.

And some of Taiwan’s indigenous groups have very distinct naming traditions, such as the Tao people, who change their name, not when they marry, but when they have their first child (the parents take the child’s name), and then they change their name again when they have their first grandchild. Basically, in traditional Tao society, children aren’t named after their parents, parents/grandparents are named after their eldest child/grandchild.

And there is this interesting essay by an American woman in Taiwan who decided to change her surname to her husband’s name, even though it goes against Taiwanese conventions. Though I don’t know why she says this: “I’m not sure why name-changing never caught on in Taiwan” – why would she expect wives-taking-their-husband’s names to ever catch on in Taiwan? What reason would the Taiwanese have had to change? (Okay, yes, Taiwan was part of the Japanese empire for about 50 years, but apparently the Japanese were uninterested in changing this aspect of Taiwanese culture).

In Sinophone societies, if a mother and child have the same surname, it tends to mean one of the following things 1) the mother is in a ruzhui marriage, 2) the father is unknown or 2) the father and mother have the same surname, (which carries the connotation of incest, even though many Chinese people who have the same surname aren’t related at all, marrying someone with the same surname is still a bit taboo). Even if the parents are not married, if the father is known, the child will take the father’s surname 99% of the time. For example, in The Condor Trilogy (which includes that novel I keep on mentioning in this blog), Mu Nianci is adopted by a man whose surname is Mu, so she take his surname, not the surname of her biological father. She gets a crush on Yang Kang. It then turns out that her adopted father’s real surname is Yang, not Mu, but Mu Nianci chooses to keep the surname ‘Mu’ because, if she has the same surname as Yang Kang, then marrying him would be taboo. It turns out that they never marry (at least in the original novel, they get married in some of the TV adaptations), but she does have a child with him, and their child takes the surname Yang because, even though his parents were not married, it is obvious that Yang Kang is his father.

A few years ago I wrote a post culture countershock in Japan. I can add another example of culture countershock to the list I wrote in that post. I met a woman in Hokkaido and learned her full name. I later met her daughter. Then I stumbled across a package which was to be delivered to the daughter, and I saw the daughter’s full name. I was shocked to learn that she had the exact same surname as her mother. You would think this would not be surprising at all, especially since I myself have the same surname as my mother. However, after having been in Taiwan for years, and for years 99% percent of the fiction I read was set in Sinophone societies, I had internalized the idea that mothers and daughters having the same surname is weird.

A few minutes after seeing the daughter’s name, I figured out that in Japanese society women probably take their husbands’ surnames, just like in the traditional/conventional United States. I don’t know why I assumed the Japanese, like the Chinese, almost never change their surnames upon marriage, I guess because Japan is also a traditionally ‘Confucian’ society? But most probably because I had so fully internalized the Sinophone tradition of not even thinking about changing a surname upon marriage, let alone actually changing a surname upon marriage, that I just … did not think about it.

In the letters responding to that essay in The Atlantic, it is pointed out that it is very common for women in India to keep their original surnames after marriage, and that in Quebec, the government requires women to keep their original surnames and they have to petition the courts if they want to take their husband’s surname. Considering the population of India and China, it is very possible that a majority of the world’s people take it for granted that a wife will probably keep her original surname after she marries, and the people who live in societies where women are expected to take their husband’s surnames are actually a minority.

I’ll be honest, I think not changing a surname at marriage is the most sensible choice. I can respect that some people think it is good/important for everyone in a [nuclear] family to have the same surname, but I do not see how that is good or important. My parents don’t have the same surname, and that’s fine. I’ve lived in an entire society (Taiwan) where people don’t change their surnames except for adoption and some exceptional circumstances (unless they belong to certain cultural minorities), and it works just fine. It’s egalitarian. In fact, I think the idea of someone changing their name when the marry makes about as much sense as the Tao tradition of changing their name when they have their first child/grandchild (by that I meant that they are both traditions which can work, but requires people to change their name just because they formed a new relationship with another person, and having people change their names can be confusing). Barring some really unusual circumstance, I am never going to change my surname, whether I marry or not (if I do marry, I’ll let my spouse do whatever they want with their surname).

That said, I also support people having the choice to change their own surname for whatever reason. I may think their reason is silly, but I want people to feel free to do what they want with their surnames even if I think it’s silly. If one wants to change one’s surname because of marriage, fine, if one wants to change one’s surname to ‘Potter’ to express one’s love of the Harry Potter franchise, that’s also fine. I do not judge people who change their surname when they marry, regardless of gender.

Smoke, Sickness, and Sore Feet to South Lake Tahoe, Part 2

At the end of the last part, I was in relatively bad physical shape, and had a lot of pressure on me to try to make it to town before my physical state became even worse. I was dealing with bad air, pain in my feet, and a cold. I was hoping that at least one of these problems would go away so that the other two problems would be easier to cope with. I had no control over the smoke, I could not make the cold go away no matter how much vitamin C I consumed, I could not fix my feet, but – wait a minute, didn’t I have painkillers in my first aid kit? Maybe they would make the pain in my feet go away, and then I would have solved at least on of my three problems.

Some long-distance hikers take ibuprofen on a regular basis so they can push their bodies past the point where they would otherwise feel too uncomfortable. They tend to call ibuprofen ‘vitamin I’ because they take it so regularly. Me? I have not taken an ibuprofen since I was 17 years old. Actually, that is the only time I recall ever using ibuprofen. I have nothing against hikers using ‘vitamin I’ frequently if that is how they want to hike, but for myself, I only want to push my body as far as it can go in an undrugged state, and I only want to pull out the drugs (other than caffeine) if I’m having problems beyond the ordinary problems of this type of hike.

At this point, I was definitely having more-than-ordinary problems.

There is morning light on the mountain which is a bit reddish with patches of snow, and in the bowl of the mountain there is a lake which is still in the shade and had a reflection of the mountain above.

Dick Lake in the morning

The thing is, I tend to forget that I’m carrying painkillers at all. Even during my miserable date when my feet hurt like hell, it did not occur to me that I could use my painkillers. Since I could not even remember that I am painkillers even when I was in a lot of pain, do you think I’m the kind of hiker who checks her first aid kit before every hike to make sure my medications haven’t expired. HA HA, NOPE! And naturally, ~all of my painkillers were expired~.

However, my acetaminophen pills hand only expired a few months earlier. I figured it was safe to take them, and at worst, it would simply be ineffective, in which case I would be no worse off than before.

It took about twenty minutes for me to feel the difference, but I swear, the expired acetaminophen pills really helped. My feet were still in pain, but it was about 50% less pain, which was a relief. Though the acetaminophen pills did not increase my energy levels (and energy drain was the worst symptom of my cold), it took the edge off some of my other cold symptoms, and that was also nice. I don’t care if it was just a placebo effect, when you are suffering you will gratefully accept a placebo effect if it makes you feel better.

[And if you’re wondering, yes, I’ve replaced all of my medications in my first aid kit, and it is going to be a while before they expire again]

Dick Lake and Lake Fontanallis as seen from near Dick Pass. See that layer of smoke in the air?

The smoke was still worse than I would like, but an improvement over the previous day.

I had not ‘solved’ any of my three big problems, but my three big problems were less bad than they had been the day before. It was time to take advantage of this amelioration to haul myself to a road and get to town.

The first leg was the uphill hike to Dick Pass, which was my biggest uphill of the day. At least I got it out of the way first. Normally I wouldn’t consider it a big deal, but in my condition, I was concerned. It turned out to be not as bad as I expected, and I think that may have been because of the acetaminophen.

A view near Dick Pass.

After Dick Pass, it was mostly downhill.

And I saw some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen on the Pacific Crest Trail. The Desolation wilderness is gorgeous.

In the background is a rust colored mountain with little patches of snow, and below is a dark blue lake surrounded by greenery.

Susie Lake

The lakes were some of the loveliest lakes I’ve seen on the PCT (and I’ve seen some very lovely lakes).

There were also plenty of lovely old growth trees, shaped by the harsh conditions of Desolation Wilderness.

A blue Lake, with granite mountains is the background covered by ribbons of snow.

Heather Lake

Beautiful scenery is not ~quite~ the reason I hike the PCT, but it is always a great morale boost, and I really needed the morale boost this day.

When I got down to the two Echo Lakes, the smoke was a lot worse, but I also knew that I was getting close to a road. I would have liked to go all the way to the highway, but by the time I got to the parking lot at the resort, it was already 6pm, and I was tired (and sick). Luckily, I was able to get a ride in about 10 minutes from nice women from Oregon/North Carolina. Another PCT hiker rode in the same car – he is the first person I ever met who is a Zoroastrian (well, maybe I’ve met other Zoroastrians without knowing they were Zoroastrians). Even though they had a dinner reservation, and the hostel in South Lake Tahoe was a detour for them, they drove us all the way to the hostel (which was great for us, because South Lake Tahoe is a very spread out town).

This is a photo of my foot at the hostel (after I took a shower and washed off the dirt). Those aren’t blisters, my skin simply peeled off, exposing the inner, sensitive layers. When the red parts touched something with any amount of pressure, there was a burning sensation.

There were a lot of PCT hikers at the hostel. Since this was in early August, I knew the NOBO thru-hikers there were not going to make it to Canada without a lot of skipping. Most of them also realized this, though a few of them still had delusions of dramatically increasing their pace so they could reach Canada that year without skipping miles. There are some amazingly fast thru-hikers, but if they were those amazingly fast thru-hikers, they would have reached South Lake Tahoe long before early August on a NOBO thru-hike. I enjoyed very much hanging out with the other PCT hikers, since I knew this was going to be my last direct contact with the PCT community in a while.

The next day, I returned home. My hike ended a lot sooner than planned, but I still covered more than 400 miles, and had a lot of memorable experiences, so I consider it to have been an overall successful trip.