In the Western Land of Disaster

A wildfire blasted through the city of Santa Rosa faster than most people can believe. We can smell the smoke here in San Francisco, where the air quality has often become unhealthy in the past week and a half (note: air pollution this bad is very rare for San Francisco). My in-laws in Santa Rosa are safe and their homes are intact, but many are not so lucky.

(I have yet to hear about my in-laws in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria, though we would probably know by now if they were dead or seriously injured. I know they are patriotic, pro-independence Puerto Ricans, but I wonder if life has become so rough in Puerto Rico that they will decide to leave).

One of the most shocking aspects of this fire is that it has devastated a city, not just some rural area in the hills (of course, the rural people in the hills feel like the rest of California does not get a shit about them when they lose their homes – or at least, my cousin who lost a home to a wildfire about ten years ago feels that way). About a hundred years ago, large fires in USA cities were common – just about every major USA city which has been a major city for at least a hundred years has been destroyed by fire at some point. However, we have begun to feel that we are ‘safe’ in cities, and the Santa Rosa fire shows us that we are not.

Climate change is most likely increased the odds of a disaster like this, but it could have happened even without climate change. There was the 1964 Henley Fire which was smaller, but one of the reasons it did less damage to homes (and killed no people) was that the population of the Santa Rosa area was much smaller in 1964 than today. My mother is of the opinion that homes should not be rebuilt in wildfire zones, but that raises the question of where the people who live in wildfire zones should go, especially considering the high cost of housing in California.

However, there are people who say that, due to climate change, it is the individual’s best interests to leave the west coast of North America because the American West is going to burn. Indeed, when my mother talks about why some particular place is not a good place to live, she becomes defensive about her choice to set her roots in San Francisco. Since I already have roots here, I feel it makes sense for me to stay, but if I did not have any existing ties to San Francisco, I probably would not choose it as my residence. Everywhere is going to have problems because of climate change, but if I was thinking about moving to a place which would have the least bad impact from climate change in North America, I would probably look to the Great Lakes region.

As I am writing this post, the air quality is still unhealthy. It reminds me of how the wildfires were messing with the air quality in the Pacific Northwest this summer. As I was in smoky Vancouver, I was thinking about how the air would be clean in San Francisco, and how odd it was that Washington and Oregon were having much more severe wildfire problems than California. I guessed I called that one too early.


The Jin Yong Jolt

In my experience, reading a Jin Yong novel often involves dropping the book and blubbering “what – what – what was THAT???!!!”


Recently, I watched Zhang Jizhong’s adaptation of Ode to Gallantry. Even though that is the Jin Yong novel I have the least memory of, I could tell that the adaptation had a bunch of stuff which was not from the novel, but that was okay – anyway, since it’s on my mind, I’m taking my first example from this story.

There are these two martial artists from the Isle of Gallantry who, to put it mildly, scare the shit out of everybody, even the leaders of the most powerful martial arts sects. That’s because they travel around China every ten years, invite sect leaders to their island. Nobody who goes to the island has ever returned, and if the sect leader refuses, then the martial artist from Isle of Gallantry kills the entire sect, and nobody can stop them,

The story builds up the suspense by explaining that these two martial artists come from the Isle of Gallantry every year, oh and it’s been ten years since they last came around, and many martial artists are desperately scrambling with various strategies to avoid being taken to the Isle of Gallantry and/or killed, and so forth. There is even an alliance being formed to create a united front against the martial artists from the Isle of Gallantry.

The guys from the Isle of Gallantry encounter the protagonist.

Naturally, the martial artists from the Isle of Gallantry eventually appear, and just as naturally, the protagonist – who of course is going to be mistaken for the leader of a major sect because plot – runs into them. What do you think happens next?

Jin Yong is very good at building the suspense, but so are a zillion other competent writers. This is not what sets Jin Yong apart – it is the way he delivers on the buildup which is special. If you haven’t guessed already what the protagonist – who often gets mistaken for a sect leader – does when he meets the Guys from the Isle of Gallantry, guess now.

You win if you guessed … that he becomes friends with them and sworn brothers, and drinks wine with them. Wait – what the heck??!!!

Becoming friends with the men from the Isle of Gallantry means that the protagonist is possibly safe from them, but once it gets known that he’s their sworn brother, well, that alliance against the Isle of Gallantry is going to target him.

Yes, Jin Yong will build up the suspense, getting the readers to anticipate whether A or B will happen, and finally, it’s neither A or B – it’s C. And option C is frequently ridiculous, but Jin Yong is talented at getting the reader to accept C without breaking the suspension of disbelief.

In my Rambling Series about Sexism in Jin Yong Stories, I mention the example of the protagonist killing his sweetheart as being misogynist. I am fairly certain that is intentionally there to shock readers. Generally, a sympathetic and righteous protagonist is not supposed to kill his sweet and loving romantic interest. However, though it is a shocking (and misogynist) plot twist, I bought into it as a reader – in other words, my suspension of disbelief remained intact.

Here are more examples of suspenseful buildups leading to surprising plot twists from various Jin Yong novels (I’m not citing the specific novels because these are very spoilery)

Example 1:

Buildup: To make a very, very, very long story short, there is a group which wants an order of Buddhist nuns to submit to them. The abbesses refuse on principle. Therefore, this group attacks the nuns to force them to submit. Out of all of the nuns’ “allies” the only one who helps them is the male and non-Buddhist protagonist with a reputation for being a lowlife (i.e. he loves drinking alcohol, which is forbidden by strict Buddhists, he enjoys having lustful thoughts about women, etc.)

Question: Will a) the abbesses, with the protagonist’s help, be able to survive and protect their order of nuns, or b) will they all be murdered, leaving the younger nuns without effective leadership and thus defenceless?

Answer: C. The last abbesses are murdered, and with their dying breath declare the male, lowlife, non-Buddhist protagonist as the leader of their order. The plot twist is actually more complicated than this, but I don’t think I can describe it succinctly. Suffice to say, having a lowlife male protagonist suddenly become the leader of a sect of nuns is a very WTF plot twist even without the extra details.

Example 2: (warning for sexual violence)

Buildup: Heroine secretly overhears Villain 1 giving Villain 2 a date rape drug so that he can rape her, and Villain 2 happily accepts it. When Villain 1 leaves, Heroine ambushes him, and then goes to the room where Villain 1 is to confront him. (And in an earlier scene in the novel, Villain 2 had beat Heroine in combat, so he is clearly a better martial artist)

Question: Will a) the Heroine succeed in confronting Villain 2 or b) will Villain 2 overpower her?

Answer: C. Villain 2 told Heroine that Villain 1 had given him the drug so that he could rape her, but that he would never use it that way. He lets Heroine throw the drug out the window, and she decides to trust him. (The reader knows that this guy is not trustworthy).

Example 3:

Buildup: Character 1 wants to kill Character 2.

Question: Will a) Character 1 succeed or b) fail, and possibly be killed by Character 2?

Answer: C
Character 1: I am going to kill you because you are [X].
Character 2: No, I’m not [X].
Character 1: You’re lying.
Character 2: No, I kidnapped [X], and I’ve been impersonating her for years.
Character 1: You’re a really bad liar.
Character 2: No, I’ll prove it to you.
[Character 2 shows Character 1 where she is keeping X in captivity]
Character 1: Wow, you weren’t lying. I’m not going to kill you.

(Coincidently, since all of the characters in this scene are female, it passes the Bechdel test.)

I actually began this post with a particularly elaborate and constructed technique Jin Yong uses to give readers their shocks. He also uses simpler techniques.

One technique is to simply have striking imagery, without any buildup. A villain demonstrates the potency of his poison by poisoning a shark and releasing it to the sea. The shark writes with pain before it finally dies. Other sharks come in and eat the dead shark, and then die of poison, and the sharks which eat those sharks get poisoned too, until the sea is filled with the floating corpses of dead sharks. Of course, though this image did not come with much build up, it is used as buildup for a later scene: when a character falls victim to this same poison, the reader knows just how much trouble he is in. His death is extremely painful. And when the crows descend to eat they flesh of his corpse, they all die too, thus he is reduced to being a skeleton amidst a flock of dead crows. (I think this is one of the most gruesomely spectacular death scenes I have found in fiction).

There is HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! (in Chinese) written across the sky.

Not that all of the bold imagery is violent. Someone prepares a birthday gift for a teenage girl – he arranges a series of fireworks to go up to write across the sky “Happy Birthday [name of teenager]!” And those fireworks also destroyed some of the fortifications of the birthday girl’s enemies – okay, a lot of the imagery is violent.

Of course, Jin Yong steals borrows a lot of this imagery from other sources. For example, the image of a man whose face is so handsome that he goes around wearing a mask to hide his handsomeness is clearly taken from the story of the Prince of Lanling.

As you can see, a theme in this striking imagery is hyperbole. It works.

However, it’s often not purely striking imagery – the context adds to the vividness of the scene. For example, one of the most famous moments in all of Jin Yong’s novel is when a woman plunges a sword into a man’s chest. While that is an interesting image in itself, what makes it memorable is that the man is the protagonist, and that he is in love with the woman and had not tried to defend himself because he had trusted her not to hurt him.

This is a *different* famous scene with a young woman menacing the protagonist with a sword. In this case, the protagonist does think the woman might actually hurt him because she is clearly super angry at him. Jin Yong ends this scene on a cliffhanger, so the reader does not find out what the young woman does with the sword until a later chapter.

Another example is when a protagonist is hidden under a layer of frost, so he looks like a snowman. Other sets of characters come in and say things they would not want the protagonist to here, unaware that he is right there. Finally, when a fight scene happens, he finally bursts out of the frost, so those characters realize that he was there the whole time *and* he overheard them.

Jin Yong is also extremely fond of relationship/identity-based reveals. He uses “Luke, I Am Your Father” many times, as well as ‘this person is actually the incognito emperor of China’ ‘this person is actually your sibling’ ‘this person is actually the incognito emperor of China AND your sibling’ (yes, Jin Yong has used that last trope).

There are some shock tropes which Jin Yong overuses – for example, I think there are too many mothers who commit suicide in front of their sons (quite a few fathers do it too, but the mother is more likely to do it because, in the Jin Yong universe, female life is not as valuable as male life). However, considering how long his novels are, the variety is still impressive.

This is one of the most famous scenes in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (w/ Eng subs) (rated R for violence) because it stacks an unusually high number of shock tropes, even by Jin Yong standards. When I was reading the novel, I felt that this scene was so over the top that I was laughing out loud. Nonetheless, because it packs in so many shock tropes, it is a good example of many of the things I discuss in this post.

Last year, I wrote this crossover fanfic about Emperor Kangxi (Jin Yong) and Emperor Gregor (Vorkosigan Saga). Even though the Vorkosigan Saga has plenty of shock tropes itself, one thing I noticed while writing the fic that it was easier for Kangxi to shock Gregor than vice versa because Kangxi is from a fictional universe with a higher level of what-the-f**kery going on.

To wrap things up, Jin Yong’s shock tropes push the readers closer to the edge of suspension of disbelief without (usually) pushing them over the edge (the characters go in a boat all the way to the Arctic Circle, and land at Fire-Ice Island, and stay there for ten years without any contact with the outside world, etc.) Because it is a region of the imagination which most storytellers will not send the readers, full of surprises, it feels fresh and new. And there are all the feels. And because it is so fresh, and surprising, and there are so many feels, it helps the reader feel more alive.

One of my favorite Jin Yong TV theme songs is “Up and Down a Challenging Road” (no, it’s not the most literal translation of the song title). Out of all the Jin Yong theme songs, I thing it best captures the spirit of the Jin Yong universe as a whole – reading a Jin Yong novel puts me on a ride full of jolts.

My Fellow Hikers, Part 6 (Final)

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, and Part 5.

Origin: Sacramento, California
Hiker Type: Flipping Thru-Hiker
Trail Resume: I don’t know

In a previous post, I mentioned a wonderful surprise water source. That water source is where I first met Just Jon.

Just Jon is the hiker sitting on the right in this photo.

Jon had started at the Mexican border, like most northbound thru-hikers. Like many thru-hikers this year, he skipped the Sierras. He had wanted to continue hiking in Oregon, but Oregon was already on fire. Thus, he decided to start at the northern end of the Pacific Crest Trail, and continue south to finish his thru-hike. This is known as ‘flipping’.

According to my maps, this was the last water source before Cutthroat Pass and Granite Pass. Day hikers confirmed this. It turned out that there were actually quite a few more water sources before Cutthroat Pass, though they were not as good as this one.

He had started at Rainy Pass, hiked all the way to the USA/Canada border, and was on his way back south. I asked why he started at Rainy Pass and not Hart’s Pass (which is much closer to the border). He said that it was much easier to get a ride to Rainy Pass. I can believe that, but getting a ride *out* of Hart’s Pass was fairly easy (I could have gotten a ride out of Hart’s Pass if I had wanted to end the hike at that point) so I don’t understand why he decided to hike south from Hart’s Pass to Rainy Pass. Oh well.

A water source near Rainy Pass, Northern Washington.

He warned me that he had washed his clothes in the pool at the water source, but that did not bother me, because I was going to take my water from the stream anyway (in most cases, flowing water > standing water). Because Jon was not wearing much clothing (he was drying his clothes) he got attacked by biting flies. I would not have even known that there were biting flies at the water source if he and the other hiker there hadn’t complained about them (I was wearing my permethrin-treated clothing, which meant I couldn’t rinse my clothes like other hikers can, but given a choice between dirtier clothes and being harassed by insects, I’ll choose the dirtier clothes).

A view from Cutthroat Pass, near Rainy Pass, Northern Washington.

As you can see in the photo above, another hiker, Mini Boss, was there too. Jon and Mini Boss had actually met each other in Southern California, so this was a reunion for them. Jon collected both of our emails. When he is off trail and has time, he said, he would like to email as many PCT hikers as possible and do some project collecting our stories. This was a really weird year for the Pacific Crest Trail, since the Sierras were snowbound until late in the year, and the fires in Oregon were also thwarting hikers’ plans. As he put it, everybody basically has their own unique itinerary this year.

The view from Cutthroat Pass, near Rainy Pass, Northern Washington.

I was heading north, and he was heading south, so I thought I would never see him again.

Ha ha ha ha ha. You NEVER know who you are going to run into again (one would think my encounters with No English would have taught me better).

Fast forward about two weeks later.

The train on the left is going to Los Angeles. Union Station, Portland, Oregon.

I was in Oregon, on the train to Los Angeles (though I was getting off in the Bay Area, not Los Angeles). I overheard somebody talking about hiking, and I of course wanted to talk to him and ask him where he had been hiking, but I was in the middle of a card game. As it turns out, he ended up recognizing and approaching me. Why, it was Jon again!

Obviously, I had gotten off trail because I had reached the northern end of the PCT. But he was a thru-hiker going south. Why was he on the train?

Wildfires. Of course.

He got off the trail at Stevens Pass. I was surprised, since the PCT was open from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. He said that, even though the PCT was open, there was a lot of smoke in the air, and there were so many fire closures south of Snoqualmie Pass that there was no way he could complete his thru-hike this year. He generally seemed very down about it. I asked if he was going to hike the PCT in the Sierras, and he said there was not enough time in the hiking season left for the entire Sierras. I said that he could still do part of the Sierras, especially since his family is in Sacramento. He said that maybe he would do part of the Sierras.

View from Granite Pass, between Cutthroat Pass and Methow Pass, Northern Washington.

Most of the train passengers were impressed with our hikes. I humbled myself by pointing out that I had not hiked as many miles as Jon (true). Jon countered by saying that I at least completed my planned hike, whereas he had fallen far short of his goal of completely the PCT this year.

I happened to spy him with a copy of More Than Two, and he was talking to another train passenger about polyamory. I asked to borrow the book, searched the index for ‘asexuality’ and read everything the book had to say about asexuality. Generally, I was not impressed, and their definition of ‘demisexual’ was just wrong.

View from the ridge above Glacier Pass. This was a few miles before I met Jon. Between Glacier Pass and Hart’s Pass, Northern Washington.

At some point in the conversation about polyamory (the other train passenger had never heard of polyamory) I came in, and mentioned that I am an aromantic asexual. I think this is the first time I have ever told another PCT hiker that I am ace or aro (or talked about asexuality/aromanticism on Amtrak, for that matter). I shared my opinion of what More Than Two says about asexuality. Neither Jon nor the other passenger had heard of human sexuality before. At first they did not clearly understand that it was a sexual orientation (I’m not sure if the other passenger ever got it, because at one point he said ‘between your [Jon’s] approach and your [my] approach, I think I’m leaning towards yours [mine]’ (asexuality is not a choice! though abstinence from sex is a choice). Someone, a lot of the conversation ended up being about the other passenger’s relationship dilemmas, and it was an interesting conversation.

So, why did Jon have a polyamory book? To summarize what he said (and put it in different language), he feels that escalator relationships do not work for him, so he’s exploring alternatives.

The trail going towards Hart’s Pass, Northern Washington.

It really does not surprise me that PCT hikers would be reading about polyamory. The Pacific Crest Trail attracts people who are interested in alternative lifestyles because being on the Pacific Crest Trail *IS* an alternative lifestyle.

In addition to the alternative lifestyle factor, I think polyamory has benefits specifically for PCT hikers. A common problem for PCT hikers is maintaining relationships with ‘significant others’. This is not a problem for me because I don’t have significant others (though I have other types of social problems on the Pacific Crest Trail, but that is another topic). Ideally, the significant other of a hiker will also want to hike, and they will have completely compatible hiking styles. THIS ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS. Assuming they both want to be on the trail, there will probably be incompatibilities in their hiking styles, which means they will need to compromise (a system which sometimes works is that they will hike separately, but arrange to meet each other for lunch and at campsites). And often, one of them wants to be on trail a lot more than the other one, which can really mess with the relationship. And if one is on trail and the other is not on trail, and they are separated possibly for months … well, that can be difficult for other reasons. I’ve heard of thru-hikers learning that their significant other is seeing somebody else, and I am sure that some thru-hikers with significant others at home have also taken up ‘trail romances’. If a hiker must separate from their significant other to hike the PCT, I think a polyamory mindset could help both the hiker and the off-trail significant other to meet their needs while maintaining the relationship.


That’s the end of my series on hikers from my summer hike on the PCT. There are so many hikers who made my experience more meaningful who I haven’t described in this series, such as that Texan guy I met at a water source eight miles out of Cascade Locks, the father and son who shared my first campsite in Washington, Takokat, The Dude, Seaweed, that three-generation family I met near Big Huckleberry Mountain, Scott, a different father and son duo who shared my campsite near the Cispus River, Pony Express, those therapists from the Tri-Cities area, the hikers I camped with at Pipe Lake, Sidney, the young woman I met at Ginette Lake, Party, the uncle-and-nephew duo I camped with, Portia and Trevor, Quetzal, Cougar Bait, Eric from San Francisco (yes, another hiker from San Francisco!), the woman I camped with at Lemah Meadow, the rock-climbing party at Gravel Lake, Bob Ross & Scaredy Cat, Mountain Rabbit, Just Wait, Chatterbox, Lazy John, Pirate, The Kid, Mr. Clean, that young guy from Vancouver WA, that guy I camped with a few miles north of Seiad Valley, the Finnish hikers, and so many hikers who I am not even mentioning here! However, while I did not do everybody justice, I think this series of posts has offered a good sample of the types of people I met on the trail this summer.

My Fellow Hikers, Part 5

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Origin: Honolulu, Hawaii
Hiker Type: Northbound Section Hikers
Trail Resume: Square Peg has hiked the entire Appalachian Trail; both have done much hiking in Hawaii; both have hiked other sections of the Pacific Crest Trail

A view near Suiattle Pass, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

I had reached Suiattle Pass, which was the end of my last big uphill climb before my next resupply. It was a long hike down, but at least it was downhill.

Further along on the trail between Suiattle Pass and Agnes Creek South Fork, Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

As I was descending towards the south fork of Agnes Creek, I passed some southbound hikers. They asked me if I had found a water filter. I had not. They told me that there were two older hikers ahead who had lost a water filter, and they were passing on the word in case anybody could locate it.

(Actually, I did find a lost water filter in southern Washington, and I carried it to the next road crossing and left it there since I had no idea if I would ever meet the owners. As it so happens, I did eventually meet the party who had lost the water filter. Oh well. At least it was not littering the forest where I found it, and maybe it helped somebody at the road crossing who really needed a water filter.)

A few hours later, I finally reached the south fork of Agnes Creek.

This is where I forded the south fork of Agnes Creek. I got my feet wet, so I spent a little time picking berries while I dried out my socks a little. Agnes Creek has the best wild berries. Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

The trail along Agnes creek was easy and very straightforward. Eventually, I caught up with two older hikers. And yes, they were the ones who had lost the water filter. For a while I walked and chatted with them. They were Square Peg and Can-can, both from Honolulu, Hawaii. I don’t remember how Square Peg got her name, but Can-can’s name comes from the Hawaiian idiomatic expression ‘if can can, if no can no can. ‘We were heading to the same campsite – Swamp Creek Camp.

When I was at Stevens Pass, I found the Section K pages from the Wilderneess Press PCT guidebook in the hiker box. I expected it to be pretty useless for navigation purposes (especially since it was so out-of-date that it did not have the re-route around the Suiattle River), but I decided to take it along for entertainment. The guidebook did say that Swamp Creek Camp was an excellent campsite. I passed this information on to Square Peg and Can-can, and I mentioned that I had picked up the guidebook pages at Stevens Pass. It turns out that Square Peg was the one who had left it in the hiker box! Her husband had sent them in the resupply box.

My pace was faster than theirs, which made it a bit tough for me to hold back and talk to them. Finally, I pulled ahead. They asked me to reserve a spot for them at Swamp Creek Camp. That turned out to be unnecessary, because we were the only people who stayed at Swamp Creek Camp that night. They arrived about ten minutes after me.

Swamp Creek Camp. If you’ve been reading my PCT blog posts, you can probably figure out which one is my tent, and which one is theirs. Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Swamp Creek Camp is excellent – in fact, it’s one of the best campsites I saw in Washington. Square Peg & Can-can liked it a lot too. My one criticism is that there is not as much tree cover as I would like (if you look carefully at the above photo, I claimed one of the few spots in the camp which has good tree cover).

Though they are a party of two, they each had their own tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek tents to be specific. Like many people, they were surprised by the size of my tent, and I explained that it is nice to use a two-person tent instead of a one-person tent. Square Peg said she would like that too, but at her age she would never want to carry the weight of a two-person tent. I then told them how much my tent weighed, and it was lighter than their tents. That’s because my tent (which is going to get its own blog post) is basically the lightest tent you can find which offers both rain and bug protection. Of course, my tent has its drawbacks, which is why I really wanted tree cover, whereas Square Peg and Can-can were fine with pitching their tents in the open. (Actually, their tents were *really good* – in fact, aside from higher weight and smaller space, their tents were superior to mine).

The bridge across Swamp Creek. Square Peg & Can-can hung their food bag from the bridge. Glacier Peak Wilderness, Northern Washington.

Square Peg and Can-can had a little problem with dinner. All of their remaining food required cooking. They knew there was a campfire ban, but since they had a wood stove, they thought they would be okay. It was only when they were deep in the wilderness that they saw a sign which said wood stoves were also banned (along with alcohol stoves, though gas stoves were still permitted). So basically, their options that evening were to either break the fire ban and use the wood stove, or to not eat that evening. (Actually, they had a third option – ask me for food. I did have a little spare food, so if they had asked I probably would have shared with them, but they did not ask). They humbly explained that they were responsible hikers and that they were only using the wood stove because of this situation. I told them that I was not going to report to the forest rangers, and that as long as they extinguished the fire properly I was cool with them using a wood stove. Square Peg told me her husband was a firefighter, and she would be absolutely mortified if she did anything unsafe with fire in the wilderness. They were, in fact, responsible with their fire.

Square Peg has hiked the entire Appalachian Trial in chunks (and that’s where she got the name ‘Square Peg’), and has also hiked most sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. Can-can has hiked other sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, though not as many as Square Peg. They told me that there is lots of hiking to do in Hawaii (which I can easily believe) and that hiking is so common that it’s just a thing everybody does when they grow up.

High Bridge, where the Pacific Crest Trail meets the Stehekin River Road. North Cascades National Park, Northern Washington.

The next morning, I got an earlier start, and I also was hiking at a faster pace, but I knew we would meet again in Stehekin, our next resupply. As it so happened, instead of taking the park shuttle from High Bridge to Stehekin Landing, I got a ride in the Stehekin Valley Ranch Shuttle. The driver was a really cool guy – he’s from the Stehekin valley, and in addition to driving the ranch shuttle, he maintains the vegetable garden at the ranch.

Later in the day, as I expected, I saw Square Peg and Can-can again. They were not as lucky as I was. They arrived at High Bridge before the park shuttle was scheduled to leave, yet the shuttle was leaving ahead of schedule. They tried to run after the shuttle – and there were other hikers with them who were trying to catch it too – yet the driver continued on (I later found out from the locals that one of the park shuttle drivers is a jerk who sometimes leaves hikers behind, so it was probably him). The other hikers with them decided to walk on the 11-mile road in order to get to town. However, Square Peg had hurt her ankle during the hike between Swamp Creek Camp and High Bridge, so they were going to wait several hours for the final shuttle of the day. However, a local with a car passed by and picked them up. There was only room in the car for the two of them, so when they passed by the hikers who were walking on the road to Stehekin Landing, they felt sorry that they could not pick them up too.

My tent at Purple Point Campground. Even though the campground was ‘full’ (because all of the allotted permits had been issued), there was this nice empty campsite next to mine (and next to the water source!) for both nights I stayed there. Weird. Stehekin, Northern Washington.

In any case, I was reunited with Square Peg and Can-can. We all stayed at Purple Point Campground (Square Peg and Can-can got the last permits for Purple Point). We all took a zero the following day (zero = day with no hiking). I got to hear about some of Square Peg’s adventures on the Appalachian Trail. She mostly hiked it during the off-season, so she did not encounter many people on the AT, and shelters were sometimes closed. Most memorable was the time she tried to spend the night in a closed shelter, only to find out that it had been taken over by bats.

During the first night in Stehekin, Square Peg’s inflatable sleeping pad was punctured. I let her use my gear repair kit (which I had never used before). It took some hours to dry, and the next morning I was running to the shuttle, so I never found out if we had successfully fixed the sleeping pad. I hope it at least helped.

Near Purple Point Campground, Stehekin, Northern Washington.

I know Square Peg and Can-can were going to spend at least one more day in Stehekin to help Square Peg’s ankle heal. I hope that it did heal and they were able to get back on the trail. I know that they also planned to stop in Mazama so they could pick up the permits to enter Canada. I don’t know if they made it, but if they did, I hope they saw my entry in the trail registers so they could know that I made it to Canada too.

For the last post in this series, I will describe my designated hiker of Section L: Just Jon.

My Fellow Hikers, Part 4

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Origin: Yangmei, Taiwan
Hiker Type: Northbound Thru-Hiker
Trail Resume: Has summitted 99 of the 100 peaks of Taiwan

I had ended up at a small, undesirable campsite near Spinola Creek because I wanted to get in a few more miles (thus leaving behind a much more appealing campsite several miles behind) yet I didn’t have the time and energy to get to the desirable campsite a mile and a half ahead. And even though it was so close to Spinola Creek that I could hear it running, there was no safe access, which meant that it was a dry camp too (dry camp = campsite without a water source). I thought for sure I would be camping alone that night, because who else would choose this campsite over the better campsites nearby?

My tent at that small campsite by Spinola Creek. You can see the corner of No English’s tent in the lower right corner of this picture. Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Central Washington.

Well, a few minutes after I reached the camp, another hiker came in. She thought there would not be room for her at the prior campsite, she had assumed that I was going to the desirable campsite a mile and a half ahead (we had seen each other, yet not spoken, at the prior campsite), and like me, she no longer had the time and energy to keep going. Fortunately, even thought it was a small campsite, there was still room for two tents (and if there had been space for only one tent, I would have probably offered the option of sharing a tent so neither of us would be forced to press on that evening).

When I tried talking to her, she told me she doesn’t speak English. So I asked her 「你會不會講中文?」 (“Can you speak Chinese?”) It turns out the answer was yes. I then told her that my trail name is 池有, and her response was “Oh, so you’re 池有, I was so surprised when I heard you were in Washington!”

I’m going to rewind a few months.

The Mount Laguna Lodge, Mount Laguna, San Diego County, California

As it so happens, during my Southern California PCT section this year, I heard two women speaking in Mandarin with Taiwanese/Fujianese accents (I say Taiwanese/Fujianese because I still can’t distinguish those accents, so I was not sure at first whether they were from Taiwan or Fujian). While one was in the post office getting a package, the other was waiting outside. She had avoided talking to me because she spoke no English, and when I started talking to her in Mandarin she was surprised. I told her that I was just hiking about a hundred miles of the PCT, which was true at the time.

Fast forward back to my hike through Washington.

The Bumping River, William O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington

When I crossed the Bumping River, I met a southbound hiker from Tainan. I didn’t spend much time with him because we were going in opposite directions, but when I told him that my trail name is 池有 he seemed baffled, even after I told him how to write it in Chinese.

The hiker from Tainan met with that hiker I met at Mount Laguna (which makes sense since they were going in opposite directions). He told her that he had encountered me, and said that I had a 神奇 (mysterious) name. She explained that it’s the name of a mountain in Taiwan, and even though he was Taiwanese, he had not recognized the name because he had not done high-mountain hiking in Taiwan.

This is a photo taken on one of the slopes of 池有 mountain in Taiwan. Specifically, the tree in the lower right corner is the Famous Tree of 池有 (that particular tree is a landmark listed in the mountain maps).

In was a pleasure to finally meet with No English again at that campsite near Spinola Creek. She told me that she had taken ‘No English’ as her trail name because it was very convenient for conveying that she could not speak English, though by the time she reached Washington, she could speak a little English. She said someone had suggested finding a ‘better’ trail name for her, but she says that, even if she eventually becomes fluent in English, she will still keep ‘No English’ as a trail name to remember how it was when she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.

I explained to No English that I got my trail name by talking to a PCT hiker about mountains in Taiwan, and since he couldn’t pronounce 池有 correctly he named me ‘Cheerio’ (but I use 池有 as my trail name when I’m speaking in Mandarin). She said that ‘Cheerio’ has a nice sound, but it’s difficult for her to pronounce, so she’s happy that I use 池有 in Mandarin conversation. It was lucky that I got a trail name which works (and has an interesting meaning) in both English and Mandarin, especially since I followed the tradition of letting someone else name me rather than choosing my own name, so I just happened to get a trail name which has an interesting meaning in both languages.

She has hiked 99 of the 100 famous peaks of Taiwan (a peak must be at least 3000 meters above sea level to be one of the 100 famous peaks, so that is a lot of sub-alpine hiking). She came to the Pacific Crest Trail because one of her hiking friends had done a thru-hike last year. She told them that she could not speak English, and they said that it didn’t matter “you don’t need to speak English to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.” She says that her friend is a liar, that you do need English. She told me that, aside from Taiwanese/Chinese hikers, she had only met three people on the Pacific Crest Trail who could speak Mandarin, and I was one of them.

(Incidently, I met a white guy at Lake Sally Ann who could speak decent Mandarin. So far, he’s the only non-Asian I’ve met on the Pacific Crest Trail who can speak Mandarin, though I admit that I may have met hikers who can speak Mandarin without realizing they were Mandarin speakers).

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

Not only is No English from Taiwan, she is from Yangmei – in Taoyuan County. I lived in Taoyuan City, which is also in Taoyuan County, for about three years. So we happened to be from the same region of Taiwan (okay, I’m not really from Taiwan, but you know what I mean).

I asked what happened to her companion in Mount Laguna (her companion could speak English). She said that they split up in Southern California because their hiking styles were not compatible.

No English said that she spent quite a bit of time in Ashland, Oregon and was ready to quit, but the other hikers at the hostel encouraged her to keep going. “How did you talk to them if you can’t speak English?” I asked. “We used a lot of smartphone translation,” she said.

At the camp, No English complained about ‘mosquitoes’ – she used the English word. I found this surprising because even native English speakers find the Mandarin word for mosquito (wén​zi​) to be easier to say than ‘mosquito’. No English said that she has heard so many hikers moaning about mosquitoes that even she knows this English word.

No English skipped the Sierras, but otherwise had hiked the entire PCT up to that point. She planned to continue to Canada, and then return to California to finish the Sierras.

No English wants to thru-hike either the Continental Divide Trail or the Appalachian Trail next year, and eventually become a Tripe Crowner. But first, when she returns to Taiwan, she wants to study English so that she will be able to speak English on her next thru-hike.

I found No English’s entry at the trail register at the USA/Canada border, and her entry at Manning Park in British Columbia. She reached Canada four days before I did.

The next entry will be about my designated hikers of Section K: Square Peg & Can-can.

My Fellow Hikers, Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Origin: Munich, Germany, and Moscow, Russia
Hiker Type: Northbound Chunk Hikers
Trail Resume: Hiked across the Andes in South American together

I actually first met Ben & Kseniya at the Trout Lake Grocery Store (which is in Section H, not Section I). I had finished all of my town chores, and while I did not want a trail angel to drive just me to the trailhead, I said that the next time a trail angel took other hikers back to the trail I’d like to join them.

The Trout Lake Grocery Store, Trout Lake, Southern Washington

As it so happens, Ben & Kseniya had not even planned to stop in Trout Lake. However, they met a man who was at a road crossing waiting for his wife to pick him up, but she was not there. They kept hiking, and at another road crossing, they met a wife who was there to pick up her husband, but he wasn’t there. It turns out the wife had gone to the wrong road crossing, and Ben & Kseniya had navigated her to the correct road so she could pick up her husband. They thanked them by dropping them off in Trout Lake. Ben and Kseniya bought a giant container of ice cream, and tried to eat as much of it as possible. They offered me some, but I’m vegan, so I declined. They could not finish it, so they left it to Barry, the trail angel who drove the three of us back to the trail. Barry had worked as a logger, then he worked as a firefighter for the Forest Service. Now he was retired, and seemed to spend all day at the Trout Lake Grocery Store, except when he was driving hikers to and from the Pacific Crest Trail.

I got a little faster start than Ben and Kseniya, but we met again at what I call ‘Bucket Spring’. They initially thought I had brought my own bucket, but no, the bucket is just sitting there, tied to a tree.

This is the “bucket spring” where one has to throw down the bucket to fetch the water. Mount Adams Wilderness, Southern Washington.

About two miles latter, I set up camp. I was hoping that Ben and Kseniya would join me, but they decided to get in more miles. Later, I was joined by Hummingbird (note: Hummingbird is the most common trail name for a female hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail – for example, the memoir Hikertrash is also by ‘Hummingbird’ and I think even this year there was both a NOBO Hummingbird and a SOBO Hummingbird). She said that my name in the trail registers looked familiar, and that as soon as she saw my tent and heard my voice she recognized me from Barrel Spring in San Diego County!

Barrel Spring, near Ranchita, San Diego County, California.

Then I remembered her – she was the young woman who arrived at Barrel Spring totally exhausted after hiking all the way from Scissors Crossing in one day. She said that the following day she planned to hike 32 miles. ‘I bet you could waltz from Scissors Crossing to Barrel Spring now,’ I said.

Anyway, back to Ben and Kseniya.

I thought they had gone past me and I would never see them again. A couple days later, when I talked to a Southbound hiker who was also from Bavaria, I asked if he had seen Ben and Kseniya, and I was surprised when he said no. Well, that evening, Ben and Kseniya passed me at my campsite near the tributary of the Cispus River – I had somehow managed to pass in front of them again. The next day, I saw them again at the notorious Knife’s Edge. That was the last I saw of them before White Pass.

This is close to the point on the Knife’s Edge where Ben & Kseniya passed me. Goat Rocks Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Now for some backstory.

Even though I saw a lot of them, I never got around to asking how Ben and Kseniya met each other. They had hiked together across the Andes in South America. They had flown into Oakland, California, and spent their first night in the United States sleeping outside in some random railyard in Oakland (as a Bay Area native – heck, I’ve even lived in Oakland for two years – I find this amazing). They started their Pacific Crest Trail hike in Seiad Valley, just like me. Like me, they reached Callahan’s lodge, and hiked for one more day past there. However, southern Oregon was too boring for them, so they hitchhiked up to the Three Sisters Wilderness. They told me that the Pacific Crest Trail in northern Oregon is amazing. They had hiked continuously from there all the way into Washington. Their plan, when I first met them, was to go all the way to the USA/Canada border and then return south to Hart’s Pass (as a Russian passport holder, Kseniya would have had to obtain an additional visa to enter Canada and it was not worth the expense/bother for her – by contrast, as a U.S. Citizen, I did not need a visa to enter Canada, only a permit).

The Klamath River, with the town of Seiad Valley on the north (left) side of the river, Northern California.

Ben wants to travel the world and avoid having a job until he is in his 50s – and the only reason he plans to get a job then is because he will need it to qualify for health and retirement benefits in Germany (he’s about the same age as me, in his 20s). Thus they are SUPER cheap hikers. Ben claimed that their Pacific Crest Trail hike only cost about 200 US dollars, not including airplane tickets (of course they already had hiking gear before this trip). They hitchhiked whenever they need motorized transport (no buses or trains), and Ben used two big sticks he used in the forest for trekking poles. What was more amazing was that they were carrying almost enough food to go over 400 miles to Canada. Ben said that he did not want to resupply in trail towns because food is much more expensive in small towns than cities, and mailing food is expensive too. I actually thought the food prices weren’t bad in the Washington trail towns (by the standards of small towns – obviously more expensive than San Francisco food prices), and mailing food packages isn’t that expensive either. But you know what, if someone is willing to carry enough food for 400 miles instead of paying a little more money to resupply every 75-110 miles, that’s their choice. I’d rather pay a little more money to have much lower pack weights, but hey, Hike Your Own Hike.

A lake a few miles north of White Pass, William O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington.

I met up with Ben and Kseniya again a few miles north of White Pass (finally in Section I!) I had spent an expensive night in White Pass (I didn’t want to hitchhike but it was really nice to sleep in a bed for the first time since I had entered Washington), whereas they had hitchhiked all the way to Yakima and some people let them stay overnight in their home for free. This was around the time that Washington was getting smoky from all of the fires in British Columbia. Ben and Kseniya reported that in Yakima the air quality was so bad that people were advised to stay indoors. Since White Pass is at a higher elevation the air was better, but still not great. They were considering going back to California because of the air quality. I said that done serious exercise in polluted air for years in Taiwan, and I figured that continuing the hike in Washington would be no worse for my lungs than that experience.

The next day, I met with them again at a water source. That evening, we all ended up camping by Dewey Lake, though Dewey Lake has a ton of campsites and we chose different campsites.

Dewey Lake, William O. Douglass Wilderness, Southern Washington,

The next day was rough (I’ll probably write more about that in a later post). One of the reasons it was rough was that there was 8 miles without water on hot, rough, rocky trail. We kept on leapfrogging each other. We took at break at the same shady spot at the same time, and I later saw them taking a break at a sunny yet windy spot. We also got to the water source at around the same time, which was a cause for joy. They pitched their tent to take a nap, while I kept hiking on. Since I was worn out by this rough day, I pitched my tent at Martinson’s Gap. They got to Martinson’s Gap an hour after I did, but they had so much energy after their nap that they decided to keep going.

My tent in Martinson’s Gap. I was later joined by a southbound hiker who decided to cowboy camp.

The next day, I met with Ben & Kseniya again at Urich Cabin, where we enjoyed trail magic together. This is when they first learned that I am vegan (I turned down the sandwiches because they all had meat). Before I met the people giving food, Ben described them as ‘they are nice, but they have guns’. And indeed, one of the guys offering food was surprised that we didn’t have a gun. I explained why carrying a gun does not make sense for Pacific Crest Hikers.

Urich Cabin, Southern Washington.

American gun culture seemed to particularly freak out Ben. He had assumed that I had a gun in San Francisco (he really did not understand San Francisco culture – we are less likely to own guns than just about anybody in the United States). I also think that gun culture in the United States is dysfunctional, certain classes of guns need to be completely banned for civilians, etc., but I was not nearly as freaked out by the possibility of meeting people with guns as he was. I suppose it’s like the people who are scared of going to San Francisco (or Japan) because of those scary earthquakes – people tend to get more freaked by unfamiliar hazards than familiar hazards.

A few miles past Urich Cabin, I met Ben and Kseniya again at the last water source before a 12 mile waterless strech. After our experiences the previous day, we were intent on filling up. There was also an ultralight thru-hiker there who claimed his base weight was just 7 pounds and he was only carrying one liter out with him into the 12 miles without water (Ben, Kseniya, and I all felt that one liter was too little, but since he was a thru-hiker, I figured he knew what his body could handle). That was the last time I saw Ben in Kseniya in Section I.

Ben’s hiking shoes were falling apart. I strongly urged him to hitchike to Seattle from Snoqualmie Pass to buy new shoes. He said that would be too expensive (realistically, getting good new hiking shoes when you’re in a hurry will probably cost at least 80 US dollars in a major US city), and that he could get good used hiking shoes in Germany for 30 US dollars. Though I generally accepted, and even admired, Ben and Kseniya’s ultra-low-budget hiking style, but this was one area where I felt he was being very penny wise and dollar foolish. Hiking over 200 miles in shoes which have soles that are falling off is dangerous, and any kind of hiking injury is not worth saving 50 US dollars. I told them that I was changing shoes in Snoqualmie Pass (I new my first pair of shoes would not last until Canada, and I had to plan the shoe change in advance to avoid making my own shoe-shopping trip to Seattle). Ben commented that my shoes were still in good shape (they were in okay shape because I intentionally did the shoe change before my first pair would fall apart, though I knew my first pair was nearing the end of its durability). I think he understood that going on in bad shoes was dangerous, and he was desperate enough to consider taking my shoes when I did the switch. That wasn’t going to work because we had different shoe sizes, AND it also was not going to work because my first pair of shoes were going to fall apart before Canada.

I was worried about Ben and his shoes. I did not see them at all in Section J.

The Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, Baring, Washington.

I got a ride out of Stevens Pass to Baring, Washington. I was trying to reach the Dinsmores’ Hiker Haven, but I had misremembered the directions. The driver decided to ask for directions, so he went to the first pedestrians he found … who turned out to be Ben & Kseniya! I was so happy to see that they were all right. They did not even recognize me in the car – they only realized it was me when we met up at the Dinsmores.

It turns out that the guy who had given Ben and Kseniya a ride to Baring had a spare set of old hiking boots, and that he had the same shoe size as Ben, so he got free replacement boots. I suppose their ultracheap strategy worked out this time.

They had arrived at the Dismores one day ahead of me, and they were in the middle of their zero day (I took a zero the following day). It was good to see them once again.

I never saw them again after they left the Dismores. I did not see their names in any of the trail logs, not even the trail log at the USA/Canada border. Maybe they just didn’t sign any more trail logs, or maybe they had returned to California to hike in the Sierras after all.

I had more repeated encounters with Ben and Kseniya than with any other hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. I am grateful that they gave me a chance to have a bit of what many thru-hikers experience when they keep on running into the other hikers who are going at a similar pace, forming a loose trail tribe.

Next time, I will write about my designated hiker of Section J: No English.

My Fellow Hikers, Part 2

Read the previous entry.

Origin: The Netherlands
Hiker Type: Northbound Thru-Hiker
Trail Resume: Never backpacked before this hike

While I was walking through the Indian Heaven Wilderness, a female hiker blasted past me. I was impressed by her speed, but otherwise just stepped aside and did not think much of this encounter.

Then, when I reached a stream near Bear Lake, I saw her again. She was pitching a tent so she could eat her lunch.

A view of Bear Lake, Indian Heaven Wilderness, Southern Washington.

Indian Heaven Wilderness is also known as ‘Mosquito Heaven Wilderness’. It is notorious for having zillion mosquitoes. I kept on hearing from southbound hikers how bad the mosquitoes were. As it so happens, the mosquitoes left me alone … as long as I wore my headnet and kept moving. When I was at Blue Lake, there seemed to be a reprieve due to a breeze from the lake, but as I was refilling with water, the mosquitoes came back in force, so I did not have as much of a break as I wanted.

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

No Fucks set up her tent because the mosquitoes were so persistent that she felt it was the only way she could eat her lunch in peace. I wanted a break too, but the mosquitoes would get me if I sat down, so instead I took off my pack and took a ‘dance’ break while I talked with No Fucks.

I learned that No Fucks was from the Netherlands. I’m not sure whether she said she was from Vaals, or whether she had merely visited Vaals (Vaals has the distinction of having the highest elevation of town in the Netherlands). Her thru-hike of the PCT was her first backpacking experience. She says she needs to thru-hike because otherwise she would get lazy. For example, to make her goal of reaching Canada by August 16 so she could go back and finish the Sierras, she needed to hike 25 miles per day. That day, she planned to hike 30 miles, which would overshoot my planned campsite by five miles. Even though she considered 25 miles to be an ‘easy’ day, I have NEVER done a 25 mile day yet (my record is 23 miles in a day). Like many hikers, she was impressed that I carried a bear can. I mentioned that I could tell I was near a town when my bear can felt light. She said she could tell she was near a town when she COULD fit all her food in a bear can. “Hiker Hunger is real” she said. “That’s why I carry a lot of food.” (Hiker Hunger is the phenomenon of long-distance hikers having ravenous appetites).

The day was not getting longer, so I moved on while No Fucks continued to eat lunch.

Fast forward to when I was camped near the outlet of Big Mosquito Lake.

My tent near the outlet of Big Mosquito Lake. This was a really big campsite. Near Forest Road 14, Southern Washington.

I had expected No Fucks to pass me long ago since she planned to go to a campsite 5 miles beyond mine, yet I had not seen her. I pitched the tent, ate dinner, read a book, all while wondering about her. I wondered if something had happened to her. It did not help that no other hikers passed by – I hadn’t seen anybody since I crossed Road 24.

Then, at 8pm, she arrives at the campsite. Since it was already 8pm, and she had completed her minimum 25 miles for the day, she decided to camp with me. It turns out that her lunch break had lasted until 4pm (I had met her at 1pm). During her lunch, all the mosquitoes formed a vast swarm around her tent, so there was no way for her to get out of the tent without a zillion mosquito bites. Then, when she reached Road 24, she noticed that she had one bar of reception on her smartphone AND that there were no mosquitoes at Road 24, so she sat down and took care of her business. That’s why it took her so long to get to our campsite.

She was scratching herself all over because of her zillion bites. She was envious that I only had a few mosquito bites (because I wore a headnet and had permethrin in my long-sleeved shirt and long pants). She told me that in Oregon, the mosquitoes were even worse, and that permethrin would not keep them at bay there. “I would not have sat down and used a smartphone in Oregon,” she said “because in Oregon there weren’t even short breaks from the mosquitoes.” She said the section hikers who were in Oregon in July were fools “we thru-hikers are in Oregon in July because we have to be, but most of those section hikers did not have to be there in Oregon.” (In retrospect, those section hikers actually had good timing because they were able to hike the Oregon PCT before the fire closures). I enjoyed conversing with No Fucks before I went to sleep.

I never met No Fucks again, but I kept track of her name in the trail journals, so I could see how fast she was progressing. Her journal entry at the Dismores was “It was nice to have my first shower in 20 days.” I saw in the trail register at Manning Park that she arrived in Canada on August 17, one day after her goal. Happy Trails, No Fucks.

In the next part, I will write about my designated hikers of Section I: Ben & Kseniya.