Book Review: Dances with Marmots…

Here goes the first ever book review! I decided to start with the book I just finished; Dances with Marmots: A Pacific Crest Trail Adventure by George Spearing.

“From Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail”

“4300 km, 5 months and a lifetime of unforgettable memories…”

For my non-imperial friends, 4300 km is roughly 2,672 miles.

I enjoyed this book immensely. I always like reading books from the point of view of “people from off.” This is a turn of phrase I heard a lot growing up in the Missouri Ozarks; it essentially means anyone that wasn’t from my neck of the woods. Now, that I’m older and have been “out” more I tend to use it for folks from other countries that come to the US for vacation, hiking, and travel.

I love the outsider looking in perspective.

Even if it’s almost twenty years old…

George Spearing’s writing style reminds me a little of Bill Bryson- it might stem from time spent in British countries but it is endearing. So are some of his short quip-like poems in the book.

The book kicks off by how he was influenced to go out and hike… by a book. Citing a book by Stephen Pern and the Continental Divide Trail- I’ve already added it to my extensive reading list.

“He wasn’t reading about it, he’d done it!”

And just like that I’ve been called out by a book.

George picked the PCT for ease of access and food delivery. I did find the international planning interesting- even though it is twenty years old he does provide decent information for international hikers and with better internet services that’s gotten easier!

I wonder if there are similar books about New Zealand… *fondly remembers childhood enjoyment of Xena and Hercules/LOTR and wanting to visit and hike some of the places shown…*

He gives us a rundown of his physical abilities- firemen, but hasn’t hiked extensively. Like many newbie or wannabe hikers…

His high spirits and get it done attitude help him out through the five month journey- plus the friends he makes on the trail.

As for the title… he has some encounters with Marmots along the PCT. He actually had an interesting conversation with them and had several run ins with the little critters throughout the book and liked their company.

I really enjoyed chapters 5 & 6, his adventures with bears, flatulence, and postal employees were funny in hindsight.

He includes several photos (in black and white) of his adventures which gives a richer picture of his journey.

He has a direct- simple and honest- approach in his writing and the humor makes it flow really well.

Like I said, I enjoyed it!

Possible Cons for some folks:
Some of the content is now outdated (published in 2005)- park and trail policies have changed a little, the trail is far more popular now, and a thru/section hiker will have a slightly different experience than George’s experiences.

The editing was a little loose- which coming from me, is funny considering I don’t notice a lot of my mistakes until nearly a week after I post something. And I proofread シ…

As a Kiwi (New Zealand) writer, some of his jokes and colloquialisms are hard to follow at times. But a quick Google search (woodland Noddy) or context clues make it easy enough to figure out. Plus, he does explain some of the misunderstandings.

It seems he shortchanges the northern section of the PCT- a lot of the more interesting adventures and learning curve stories happens on the southern section, California. But it would have been nice to see more information and stories from the Oregon and Washington sections.

Keep wander…eh…reading?,

BJ

P.S. I’ll have to come up with a new sign off for the book reviews…

P.S.S. If you want to pick this book up…
Just an FYI, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

P.S.S.S…? Drop a comment for the next book you want reviewed, pick from photo! Otherwise I’ll just go down the stack in order.

Best Laid Plans

Well…

That didn’t go as planned.

Also short boring post this week.

The doctor appointment went well but we didn’t leave as early as we would have liked going to North Platte and then we didn’t leave North Platte until almost six and I had a dog that practically ran me over to get outside when we got home.

So, there was no stopping at Thedford or the Valentine NWR this week. Luckily, the art gallery is going to hold onto my pictures, and they signed me up to sell on commission there… I’ll see if my photography is good enough to sale. Exciting.

This week is going to be work and reading heavy I’m afraid…

Other than when I’m hanging out watching Ultimate Frisbee- then I’ll be taking some photos or falling asleep in my awesome lawn chair!

But my weekend is going to be fun- I have a surprise visitor that is going to do some local adventures with me!

No, it will not be an early delivery lol. Sorry friends and family that keep making cracks about how it’s twins or I’ll be giving birth early- the doctor said I’m on track for a late September date, as expected.

Since it looks like my adventures are coming to a middle for the time being how about we change it up a little more. I showed my stack of books on hiking and adventure last time. How about I toss in a review of the books I’m reading?

At least this way I can feel productive and still talk about hiking (and river adventures)!

I’ll probably do them as a separate post that starts with “Book Review:…”

**Due to some whacky planning, I’m taking a couple of grad classes in history during this time period too… however, I doubt you all want to hear about early colonial America or the Age of Enlightenment so I will try to not to get the book reviews confused…**

Heck, I might even reformat my blog and play around with other themes.

Reinvention is important in this day in age!

In other news, I’m working with my dad to republish a book he wrote in 1970 about a hunting dog in the Ozarks. It’s great to collaborate with him on stuff like this- I’m hoping we can do more things in the future!

Book in question- one of the original copies. We’ll probably do some new cover art!
Back cover…

I’m also being horrible and putting the Baby Wipes and Day Hikes behind a paywall…

I decided since I probably will be backing off on some of my other jobs, but still need to fund Hunter and I’s hikes, I would just put that page behind a monthly $5 fee.

I was just going to do a tip jar but unless you fork out almost $300 for a business plan you can’t use that plugin… If I get some more traffic/followers and some of my other ideas pan out I might change the format to the tip jar but for now, I’ll just stick with Stripe and the $5 subscription. I might also switch to $15 a year- which puts the monthly price at $1.25.

I might do a poll in a later post to see what people think…

I will be putting highlight or blurb whenever I make a new post on the Baby Wipes and Day Hikes in my “main” blog so you can decide if you want to read more/subscribe.

Keep wandering,

BJ

P.S. Milk gives me heartburn…but Hunter still craves it…

Bored…I’m Bored!!!!

Short post this week, sorry about that.

Yeah…after that nine-day work week my weekend consisted of me doing laundry (only productive thing I did) and eating Oreos on the couch…

Oh, and walking the dog.

I’m turning into a boring person.

It’s just not the same as going somewhere for a hike.

However, I did read a wonderful book on hiking… Dances with Marmots- A Pacific Crest Trail Adventure by George Spearing

If you have any recommendations or want to hear about one of these books let me know!

I have a friend on social media that got out and was hiking some mountains in Japan; now I’m itching to go somewhere and climb a mountain. However, between the Covid-19 restrictions and lung kicking that’s not going to happen- so, I’m drooling over his photos and jealous. Thanks @bnheise

Sadly, the closer I get to the due date the less my doctors seem to want me to do anything- I understand why but it’s sending me into a funk. Plus, with the extra weight and the whole growing a small human the heat of summer is getting to me- it’s making me cranky.

**plan any future children to be carried to term during the winter… the internal heater will be nice.

So, more sitting in the A/C and reading books on other people’s adventures. Some are re-reads. Nothing, wrong with that but there goes my winter reading list… although, this year I will have a new buddy to spend the winter with.

I’m back to my normal grind and have an upcoming weekend- I’m hoping to do something this “weekend.” I do have a doctor’s appointment in North Platte this week and I will be going by the Valentine NWR. I might take a little time and wander there…

It’s hot mom!

Keep wandering,

BJ

P.S. Send me your favorite hiking reads!

P.S.S. Decaffeinated sweet tea is not the same!

33 weeks!

Return to the Rim

Aggghhh! Time has gotten away from me; between the New Year, graduate school, and work I’ve been swamped. I feel so bad I haven’t posted the last installment of the Grand Canyon adventure! Here is the final part of the story…

6’ish… I wasn’t paying to much attention to time…

Cold. Blissful cold. If you like that sort of thing. I wanted nothing more than to burrow down deeper into my mummy bag and wait for the sun to rise and warm up the canyon. However, that never seems to work for me when I’m camping.

I’ll usually wake up early; if I’m camping with friends I’ll feign sleep. So I can stay in my tent and read or just relax enjoying the sounds of nature interrupted by the sounds of camp cookware clanking and low voices. I tend to do the same when I’m camping by myself. It’s odd when I’m home in civilization I’m a night owl that hates getting up in the morning and I’ll sleep in on weekends. Camping, my clock reset’s itself, I should camp more often.

This chilly morning in February, I got up with my hiking partner, the other guy had already been up for a while. After the usual morning ablutions, we had breakfast. For me that was one of the hard-boiled eggs and two granola bars. I kept hoping it would magically turn into bacon, tomatoes, fresh bread, and hot tea but alas no magical hobbits were running about cooking breakfast. However, at the time it was filling. Looking back now, I should have had about twice the amount of calories. I thought I had planned for the deficit, but I underestimated what I would need for the hike back up.

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Near the Rim; the geology was impressive.

After breaking camp, I took a few moments to fill up all my water bottles and the now empty Gatorade bottle. We took one last look around Indian Gardens and set off for the return trip up the Rim. My legs were only a little sore and each step seemed to loosen them up.

As we left the green valley of the garden, I looked back towards our resting place, the canyon beyond, and the invisible Colorado River; one day I will come back and explore this place far more. I adjusted the pack, once again better fitting because of the jacket and kept hiking.

We hit the switchbacks right away; for me these, and the switchbacks the last mile up, were the worst. Although, the ones at the bottom, in comparison to the last little bit, were easy. I was enlivened by my experience in the canyon, it was a new day and a new me.

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Indian Garden is behind my head…and a ways back down.

I honestly don’t remember as much on the first few switchbacks up. I do remember when at the last two in this section I wanted to find the person that made backpacks (or in the more likely the person that bought them in bulk for the training folks) and find out what his or her problem with short people was, because that pack was getting ridiculous. Did they just not assume short people hiked?

Overall, the trip back up wasn’t as exciting as going down; if we had gone on down to Phantom Ranch and back up the South Kaibab Trail or up to the North Rim it would have been more fun for me. However, we were doing a down and back on the Bright Angel Trail. I still loved it, but I had seen most of the views on the way down. I will say the view heading up was impressive. The Rim a huge wall just towering above you, it’s daunting but when you make it to the top it makes you feel invincible. The other reason I don’t think I enjoyed it as much was the impressive amount of people that clogged the last two miles of trail.

It was inspiring to look back up that canyon wall and think, by the end of the day I will be standing on top of that, not even the end of the day 2 pm at most. By the time 2 pm rolled around I was thinking, I’ve never wanted to push someone off a cliff but if one more person with a selfie stick whacks me their getting an up close shot of the canyon floor. In hindsight I really wish I had used my trekking poles as swords, at least it would have been entertaining.

The thing about the Grand Canyon is your essentially backpacking a mountain in reverse. Most people go up the mountain and then back down, at the Grand Canyon you go down first and then back up. It takes about twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. I firmly believe at least forty five minutes of that time is just dealing with traffic jams, usually involving a selfie stick.

I kind of view people the way I view wildlife…from a distance. My job is interacting with people, it’s very outgoing and while I love it by the end of the day people just wear you down. It took many years for me to realize I’m an introvert. However, I do like talking to people and helping them out. The amount of people who visit the Grand Canyon made me rethink how people process information, especially in written form. So for the average day hiker, who only hike a mile or two down, really should pause and read the bulletin boards; especially hiking 101.

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Important trekking equipment for the Grand Canyon in winter; trekking poles and crampons.

  • Mules have right away; don’t jump in front of them to take a cool picture, you’re holding up the mule train and the rest of the hikers.
  • Also yelling and jumping because you’ve seen a mule “in the wild” while said mule is plodding by you, is a great way to scare both the mule and the person riding said mule. It also scares all the hikers who are waiting quietly while the mules pass, especially when the mule decides to jump sideways and almost takes out five people.
  • Take water. Even though it’s February, and the rest houses every mile and a half have water, if you’re not used to arid conditions you’ll need more water. Puking by the side of the trail is not a fun morning activity.
  • While it’s only a “courtesy” on both the website and the bulletin board; please give the uphill hikers the right of way. You won’t realize it until you’re coming back up but once you get in a groove of walking, especially uphill, you don’t want to stop.
  • It is a good sign if you can carry a conversation while you’re walking and not be out of breath. That said I don’t care what you had for lunch last Thursday and when you walk two abreast I can’t pass you; especially, when you either ignore or didn’t hear the “passing on right.” Talking is great, however, pay attention to your surroundings; not only the other people on the trail there is a whole canyon over there.
  • Keep the selfie sticks on the rim; the trail isn’t that wide and there are tons of people coming down or up that will be happy to take a photo for you. I got whacked twice by people who were trying to get that perfect shot and weren’t paying attention. (I did try to dodge, but when there are people behind, in front, and to the side of you, it’s hard to go anywhere.)
  • Last but not least; don’t wear flip flops. Surprisingly, several people thought this was great footwear. It’s February, there is ice on the rim even though it’s a desert area. I didn’t get to see any broken bones but odds are high that something might happen.

Sorry for the rant; but some things bear repeating. This is the part of the story I think my friend enjoyed so much; watching me rant and rave about selfie sticks seemed awful funny to him at the time. Like I said I still enjoyed the hike for the most part; I just would change the time we came back up.

I think hiking up at 4 am would have missed most of the people or at least put us near the rim with the first surge of people. Or waiting until about three hours before nightfall. All in all though, if you are thinking about taking a backpacking trip into the canyon, weather permitting, February or March is the time to go. Fewer people, pleasant temperatures in the Inner Canyon, and an icy finish.

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Remember: nice in the Inner Canyon, icy at the top in February.

After plodding along we reached the mid-point a stone rest house and met up with our driver and hiking companion from the previous day. She brought along another hiker to join our party. We ate a quick lunch; for me that was the other hardboiled egg, a couple of peanut butter bites, and an energy bar. Afew miles later I had the shakes; not from exhaustion or overexertion but because I wasn’t consuming enough calories. I ate the remaining four energy bars and most of the bag of peanut butter bites at a switchback near the top. Our fearless leader felt bad for not catching on that I hadn’t eaten enough, I felt like a dumbass because as an EMT and knowledgeable ranger I didn’t account for the larger calorie burn.

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One of the little rest areas along the trail… I was more interested in the geology behind it…

Craving a cheeseburger, fries, and a whole apple pie, we resumed the last leg of our journey. It was here I got a little annoyed with some of the members of the group, I’m all for conversation but I was in the “get to the top” eat a burger mindset. I was still in the rear of the group and each time the conversation struck up we would bog down. I started to stop and wait, let them get ahead and catch up. Once we broached the top of the trail, and dodged the selfie sticks, we on good terms again. I remember stopping at the big bulletin board with large stones; perfect for sitting down and removing crampons. Soon as I had the crampons off, I looked up at the trail head sign for Bright Angel.

I had made it. I survived my first backpacking trip.

I wanted to go again.

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Exploring Grand Canyon

Epilogue

After we finished are trip, the fearless leader and I went and dropped money (in my case a lot of money) in the Grand Canyon Bookstore. Soon as we returned to our lodgings, I ate a quick snack and jumped in the shower. I sighed in pleasure as I lavished each tooth with a healthy dose of toothpaste. Once hygiene had been reestablished, I checked on my online classes. Then I cracked open the first book on my reading list; it was the Emerald Mile. It is a great read about the fastest speed run down the Colorado.

Laying the bed and reading had a calming effect, i.e. I took an unplanned nap. I awoke to some messages about a Superbowl Party where mass quantities of pizza would be available. I felt like Toot-Toot from the Dresden Files; I hustled down the stairs to the commons. I inhaled a lot of pizza, still recovering from the deficit. The Superbowl was okay, surprisingly I liked Lady Gaga’s halftime show, and I once again fell asleep, this time on the floor. I was awoken by someone who was very excited about the winning team; I groggily made my way back to my room. I still don’t recall who won. I was going up the stairs when I felt the first twinges of pain in my calves.

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Hopi Point; worth the hike on sore legs to get there, even on an overcast day!

The next day I was sore but it wasn’t too bad, I took my time walking places. It wasn’t until Tuesday that the real pain set in; I woke up with a muscle cramp in my left leg. I took a warm bath and that seemed to help. After a long day of training, checking out some cool stuff too, I was once again heading up those stairs. It was so painful, that I fully implemented a plan for the world’s shoddiest rope sling elevator by the time I reached my door. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to realize my plan since I didn’t have any rope. A hot bath, two beers, and a couple of low dose pain pills later I was comfortable. I was on the phone with my mom and dad telling them about the trip and the late onset pain. My mom asked, “Was it worth it?”

Without missing a beat, “Hell Yes!”

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact I’m trying to convince my fiancée to take a combined rafting/backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon for our honeymoon. He gets to pick the honeymoon since I picked were we’re getting married. I keep dropping hints. I’ll keep you’ll posted.