Friday, April 20, 2012

The beginning.

I wrote this several nights ago when I stayed awake until two a.m., strung out on caffeine and an unresolved never-ending to-do list and the knowledge that soon a progression of events would lead me to the border of Mexico with nothing but a pack on my back, a few friends, and a very long walk ahead of me.

Today if all goes well I begin walking from Mexico to Canada! 2,600 miles and some change. I won't be posting every day because unlike the vast majority of hikers, I do not have a smart phone. But when I have time I'll stop in libraries and hostels and I'll be sure to share my photos and stories then. One of the easiest ways to find out when I've posted is to "follow" my blog by using that option at the top of the blog. (Mom & Dad, if that's too complicated just bookmark this page!)

Thanks to all my friends and family; I feel so lucky to have you spread throughout my life. To everyone who shared with me small bits of kindness this winter; it was an extraordinarily lonely season but it taught me that the people I know are wonderful. Thank you for the letters and meals and visits and emails and gifts and offers of couches to crash on. You might not have realized it, but all of you got me through a really tough time. I may not always be around, but know that I think of all of you far more often than you might think.


“You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!”

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Another reason to walk.

These are flowers from my great Aunt's garden. She loved her yard, and she loved her home.  I lived in her house for a year after she decided to go into assisted living. Not long after she moved she decided that it was a mistake, that she missed her home and she wanted to go back. As a family we had all come to the conclusion that assisted living was better for her; at home she'd be completely alone, unable to drive, with the possibility of hurting herself on steep narrow staircases. And so we gently avoided mentioning home to her. We dodged her suggestions of visiting it and we attempted to sidestep her complaints about her new life.
When I came back from the Appalachian Trail she had just suffered a fall and was sick. Her face was bruised and her nose swollen, but she was in good spirits. We had not seen each other in 6 months. I was shaken enough by her appearance that I cried. At this time it slowly it became very evident that she was never going to live on her own again. Her mind was changing and both mentally and physically she was becoming weaker.
She was so incredibly proud of the things I did. She told everyone she knew in that housing complex about my adventures. Every time I visited, she wanted to show me off. Once she cornered the director in his office and had him sit and chat with us about what I had accomplished. I am ashamed to admit that there were many times I thought about visiting her but postponed it with excuses. I liked seeing her, but it was tedious and mildly embarrassing being shown off to everyone.
 I didn't see her all that often this summer, fall, and winter; when my mother and aunt began emailing me health updates I knew that she was sick and that her mind was failing in more obvious ways, but it never occurred to me that when I next saw her, she'd be gone. My aunt who had always been so proud of me looked me in the eyes and failed to even recognize me, as we stood in a hallway gazing at women who drifted like unmoored ships in wheelchairs. I struggled to hide my tears and eventually gave up, standing behind her wiping at my eyes. I felt guilt at not spending more time with her sooner and an overwhelming sadness at the people around her who were shells of their former selves, some of them complete vegetables, unable to move, unable to feed themselves, staring blankly at nothing. These are people who unknowingly embody the antithesis of how I feel when I hike. I'm crying again as I type all this. It's trite but true: life is short and precious... so do what you love while you can.

I went back and visited my aunt again before I left and she was much better than the last time I saw her, even responding with her usual dry sense of humor at my prompting when I told her I was about to hike again. 'That's nuts!" she said. I'm so glad she was just having an off day on my previous visit, but it hurts to know that she will be irreversibly different in six months when I come home. I wish I didn't have to anticipate that. But I know that I do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So you want to send me a mail drop...

hurray! By all means, please do. These are a few of my favorite mail drop things:

Loose leaf tea (I'm carrying a really light metal mesh tea ball for steeping, which I'm pretty excited about but I have a feeling there won't be many tea shops along the way.)
Starbucks Via instant packets (or coarse ground coffee I can brew in the tea ball!)
Magazines of any ilk (especially National Geographic.)
....Or really any sort of candy that also contains sea salt.
Fun Facts.
Healthy food stuff. (Interpret that however you like, as long as it tastes good.)
Really, really really good non-supermarket beef jerky.
Sample sizes of hair conditioner (...if you mail me this I will love you forever. Unconditionally. HA.)

And best of all, letters.
Here's a list of my mail drop addresses/ETA's. They are only for California right now. There will eventually be a few in OR and WA too. I did a really, really vague estimation of arrival dates for each destination. This means if you're sending me homemade cookies, they could be extremely stale by the time I belatedly arrive. (I would probably still quite happily eat them, though!)

I know I'm not being too presumptuous because I've had a few requests for mail drop information already... and at the least, now my mom has some good care package ideas! (Thanks in advance, mom... love you!)

PS: the Post Office will find me much more likeable if you label whatever you are sending exactly how I have it listed here.

Angela Zukowski c/o
Kennedy Meadows General Store
96740 Beach Meadow Rd
Inyokern, CA 93527
Please hold for PCT hiker ETA 6/1

Angela Zukowski c/o
General Delivery Independence PO
101 S. Edwards St
Independence, CA 93526
Please hold for PCT hiker ETA 6/6

Angela Zukowski c/o
General Delivery, Belden PO
14151 State Hwy 70
Belden, CA 95915
Please hold for PCT hiker ETA 7/2

Angela Zukowski c/o
General Delivery Old Station PO
12529 State Highway 44/89
Old Station, CA 96071
Please hold for PCT hiker ETA 7/7

Monday, April 16, 2012

A PCT book review:

 My flight to San Diego is taking off in just a few short hours! I won't be around the internet for a while, but I scheduled a few more posts just because when you have a million things to do, clearly wasting time on the internet is a much better option. So you can expect regular posting right up until the 20th when I start hiking.

Other than skimming guidebooks for a few fleeting moments of inattentiveness, my sole research for this hike has been wikipedia (kind of pathetic, I know), the PCTA website (for just a few brief internet attention deficit moments), countless neurotic emails to friends and friends of friends who have hiked, and two memoirs. The memoirs were less for research and more because I enjoy reading fiction. I'm going to talk about the fiction now, rather than go to bed like a more sane person might do.
White's book reminds me a lot of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. It's humorous but tends to gloss over what I consider the most important aspects of a hike: the deprivation and degradation, and interaction with other hikers. Don't get me wrong - both of these authors mention these things (often in fairly entertaining passages of writing). But for some reason, I just feel that neither really digs deep enough. My other issue with the book is that I found myself really turned off by his somewhat cavalier attitude towards his then girlfriend/hiking partner. I was not a fan. If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it because I can't tell if my secret inner militant feminist man-hater is swaying my opinion a bit too much and I'm overreacting. I may re-read The Cactus Eaters on my hike and see how I feel about it after giving it another chance. 
On to the next book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Initially I was prepared to be underwhelmed. It's a book that has been well-publicized (I have seen two review blurbs in national publications already) and breathlessly touts the author's encounters with bears and rattle snakes. "BIG WHOOP", was my first reaction, completely unimpressed. The interesting thing is, only fifty pages deep into the book I already really liked Strayed and was completely engrossed. Have you read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert? Like that protagonist, Strayed is running away from a broken marriage and embarking on an adventure. However unlike Gilbert, whom I loathed with a fiery passion (please note that I absolutely loved her book The Last American Man and found her narrative thoroughly enjoyable there. I just found myself rolling my eyes at her repeatedly during her personal journey to self-realization, unfortunately.) Strayed is really, truly likeable even as she recounts a journey that, let's face it, is pretty selfish. She shoots heroin a week before departing for her hike. She cheats on her husband repeatedly before they separate and then divorce. And yet I feel nothing but interest and sympathy for her. It's an engrossing narrative by a strong writer and the love and grief she expresses is believable and powerful. Unlike the other two books I previously mentioned, this narrative has a raw and compelling background story that is interwoven with the trials and tribulations and adventure and humor of a long distance hike. This is a book I was planning on reading on the plane and then passing on, but now I really want to share it with my mother and friends. It's too good to just casually leave behind. Also, the NYT book reviewer admits to crying while reading it! I did not shed a tear, but I will admit that it was tough to put down.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A thoroughly necessary indulgence.

Yesterday I whined a little bit about the challenges and monotony of hiker food while leaving out the most important issue that I struggled with: nutrition. On my last hike, I started off very diligently attempting to eat dehydrated meals and dried fruit and protein powder and by the last 500 miles I was consuming nothing but junk food like Doritos and candy. It was a terrible diet and it was reflected in my daily exhaustion. I met a hiker in New England who I had blown past on my very first day of hiking in Georgia but hadn't seen since, and his exact words upon greeting me were "What happened? You used to be fast."

A balanced diet with healthy ingredients while hiking is incredibly difficult to maintain. You want food that is convenient to carry and eat, and often the options are limited. At many grocery stores the best you can do is a Nutri-Grain or Clifbar, and let's be honest, that isn't all that nutritious or appealing... which is why I am so excited that Raw Revolution has agreed to supply me with some of their product. Sprouted flax seeds and organic ingredients: these are a few of my favorite things... and when they come in the form of a raspberry chocolate bar well, things just don't get much better! This is a company that definitely knows the way to my heart!
I'm much more excited about my mail drops now. You can buy Raw Revolution products online and check them out on facebook. I'm looking forward to tasting all of their varieties soon, especially the organic greens superfood bars. Happy Friday! I have just days to get my act together before I fly to San Diego and hit the trail. I'm getting incredibly overwhelmed with excitement.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On mail drops:

I gave up on my mail drops with my departure for California looming mere days away. I hastily slapped down the lid on the largest of the boxes and walked away from the mess littering my parents dining room. There were good intentions involved with these mail drops. Great intentions, really. Visions of hemp hearts and 8 grain breakfast cereal and wholesome nutritious meals had danced merrily through my head until my incompetency and inability to pack and plan efficiently left me a defeated and broken woman, plagued by pouches of chia seeds, remorse and self-loathing.
 I am now going to admit something that I find slightly humiliating: I have been planning these mail drops for months now. MONTHS. For whatever unknown reason, I find it far easier to move bags of groceries from room to room than I do to finalize itineraries and determine amounts. These piles of oats and seeds and grains and berries have been moved from my car, to my room in New Hampshire, to the kitchen in New Hampshire, back into my car, to my room, back into the kitchen, in my car again to Massachusetts, to my sister's bedroom and finally to my parent's dining room and sun room, where they now remain, scattered throughout my parent's house in piles that are directly proportionate to the amount of despair I felt when attempting to divvy them up at the time. This is the albatross round my neck. Procrastination and packages. I couldn't even sleep in a bed last night, because it was covered in mail drop food. I have tried over and over to figure what exactly makes such a straight-forward task so challenging for me, but none of my answers are really adequate.
Yeah... that's a bed under there.

It is partially the knowledge that each ziplock bag full of sickly sweet vanilla protein powder will soon meld its nauseating fragrance with that of pungent dehydrated beans until it overpowers the taste of every other item in my box, partially just sheer unyielding procrastination, and partly the pressure-cooker of emotions that I submerge myself in every time I return home to my parents that is causing me to flail in a morass of unresolved planning and unpacked dry goods. Both hikes I imagined mail drops proceeding with good intentions and methodical ease and instead found myself overwhelmed with frustration and franticness at the last minute. I'm not a precise and methodical person. This sort of planning is not my strong suit. And yet somehow I find myself drawn to it, attracted like a moth to flame by the promise of order and preparation, which then inevitably turns to complete chaos.

On the brighter side of things: at least this hike I'm not attempting to pack up and move out of an entire house in one day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Food for thought.

One of my most favorite things to do is to go to a farmer's market; something that is not always achievable when living in a tent or out of a backpack. My compromise this past summer when I was in the woods for long stretches of time was to carry lots of produce and upgrade my approach to backpacking meals.
Fried polenta cakes, sauteed vegetables, veggie burgers, stir-frys, and a nice big pot in order to cook pasta with the correct amount of water so it wouldn't turn into starchy mush -  I had multiple pots and pans, which basically means that I was living the dream, people. Cans of chickpeas, pounds of yogurt... all kinds of ridiculous things that were obscenely heavy were made tolerable due to the low mileage to my destination. It was ten days of food (really heavy food) but I only had to grin and bear it and hike for less than three miles. I'm pretty reluctant to go back to my thru-hiker ways, which consisted of many dinners of cereal and instant milk and a lot of couscous, instant mashed potatoes and dehydrated beans. All of which are easy and light, but boring.
I could have opted to dehydrate meals but found in the past that they tend to taste stale and boring after a while unless you mask it with powdered cheese and hot sauce. I get tired of this very quickly. Plus it would have been a lot of work. So now I'm faced with the limitations of a very small cook pot and a very basic alcohol stove in addition to the challenges of monotonous food. Goodbye, frying pan and propane burners... it was nice while it lasted.

My biggest problem is that I like variety and in order to satisfy that my food bag becomes drastically heavier. I'm not a hiker who can eat ramen every day, as much as I'd like to be. Right now I'm contemplating carrying honey, butter, jam, and even balsamic vinegar (I'm going overboard, I know). I'll definitely have apples, oranges and avocados as treats and am going to use salad bars in grocery stores to my advantage much more than I did last hike. I didn't carry a knife on the Appalachian Trail but this time I've caught myself thinking I could do a lot more with veggies if I had a small knife and one of those really light, flimsy cutting boards.

Is this crazy? You tell me. I've been struggling with figuring out what are unnecessary indulgences for this hike for quite some time now! (You'd think I'd have this part all figured out after the first hike, but it just means that I'm sick of deprivation and I haven't even started hiking yet!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reasons why.

Although generally they are very supportive, one of my good friends was incredulous when she heard that I had decided to hike the PCT. "Why?" She asked. "You were miserable on the last hike. You hated it!" This was a logical conclusion for her to make since I tended to make phone calls to her when I was extraordinarily bored and/or miserable. There was a monumental struggle with ennui on the Appalachian Trail and I'm curious to see how I cope with it on my second attempt at a long distance hike.

I should call friends and family more often when the amazing aspects of hiking occur so that I can convey the reasons why I feel this love and longing towards hiking... but when you're in the woods you don't usually want to whip out your phone at these moments.

So for those of you to whom I perpetually complained about boredom and filth here is an apology and just a few of many moments that I should really should have shared, instead of complaining for the umpteenth time that I smelled bad. I can't wait to discover the many reasons why the Pacific Crest Trail will be far more wonderful than it is terrible. These pictures only convey the smallest fraction of the joy and freedom you get to experience while living life on a long distance trail.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dressing up.

"You, said my colleague, are really girly."

This was a pronouncement issued in a tone that allowed for no arguing. A tone that almost sounded accusatory, as if girliness was something I should apologize for. Now, bear in mind that my job at this time issued an axe to each of us during training. We got down on our hands and knees in mud and hugged 200 pound rocks, straining to move them with our entire body. We quite literally shoveled shit. I shaved my legs only once that summer (and only to the knees). I went ten days at a time without showering. Crocs and Carhartts were standard attire. I felt slightly insulted when he informed me of my girliness... and yet I can't argue with that statement.

I wore dresses on my days off. I was caught wearing makeup once (I was with my girlfriends in an urban location and then forgot to wash it off!) to the astonishment of another co-worker. And I'll admit it, the crocs I wore at my tentsite (a shoe I once swore I'd never wear) were an especially feminine style. Don't judge me too harshly.

For over five months on the Appalachian Trail I didn't even have a second pair of shoes. I walked all day in a pair of trail runners; if I wanted a change of pace in town or in camp I let the laces hang untied or I walked around barefoot. I had a warm jacket. A rain coat. A pair of spandex tights for cold days and laundry days. A pair of shorts. A tank top. A long sleeve shirt. Two pairs of socks and a single pair of underwear. That was my wardrobe in its entirety: nine articles of clothing. I was starved for variety; I daydreamed about wearing jeans and a cotton t-shirt.
I'm about to embrace the pared-down hiker wardrobe again but this time as I stared at my closet, attempting to scrounge up a hiking wardrobe while spending as little money as possible I had a sudden epiphany in the form of a peacock blue cotton dress. 4.1 breezy ounces of girliness. Worth it.

Friday, April 6, 2012


For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly. 

don Juan

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When worlds collide.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time you've probably noticed several things:

1. I like art.

2. I like hiking.

3. I'm going to be hiking for fifty percent of this year on a little trail that runs from Mexico to Canada.
For obvious reasons there probably won't be too much talk about art while hiking. BUT! I will be doing something that for me, is a first: I will be carrying a sketchbook on this hike!!!!!! (Please note that the excessive amount of exclamation marks are indicative of the fact that this is a big deal.) I am notorious for sketchbook neglect and I almost never create art while hiking. The decision to add this weight to my pack thus looms very large in my head because if I don't become a prolific drawer then that weight is absolutely pointless/tortuous.

Initially I was going to pack my miniature Windsor & Newton travel watercolor kit, the thought of which involuntarily conjures up the words en plein air; a pleasing phrase redolent of Earl Grey tea and crisp linen and Manet and Monet and sunny fields and wooden easels. Plus it has great colors and a teeny tiny brush (what's not to like?). However I recently came to my senses and recalled that initially I will be hiking through desert. I could potentially be carrying at least eight pounds of water on my back and I will be damned if I'm going to waste any of it on a lousy sketchbook! So now the plan is to carry a few markers or colored pencils. You know, just another trivial decision to agonize over for hours on end.
It's an exciting progression for me because as much as I love both art and hiking, I have always let the logistics of combining the two defeat me.

In conclusion: while I won't be talking about art all that much I will do my best to draw and document and share that on here (I even am attempting to forgo carrying a book, just to force myself into using the sketchbook - desperate times call for desperate measures.)... and if I don't draw, you can rest assured that I will be cursing myself with every useless sketchbook-laden step.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

10 signs that you are on the verge of hiking a long distance trail (or losing your mind).

 Couscous, TVP, dehydrated veggies, cheddar cheese & hot sauce... tastes good now; ask me how I feel about it in a month.

1. You wonder how much everything weighs. EVERYTHING.

2. The thought of eating oatmeal is enough to reduce you to near tears because you foolishly decided to mail yourself ten packages containing oatmeal, despite knowing better than that. Ditto for black beans, refried beans, and hummus... only your despair is even more profound at these items because they are dehydrated and thus even more revolting.

3. You spend whole blocks of time lost in thought trying to convince yourself that really, a shake consisting of protein powder, instant pudding, and dried milk is going to be delicious and vital to the success of your hike (when in reality the thought of vanilla protein powder makes you gag).

4. All of your to-do lists contain the words pack and gear. And there are many of them.

5. When you spend money unnecessarily you find yourself wondering how many groceries it could have bought you while hiking.

6. You find yourself obsessively researching crocs and other lightweight camp shoes at midnight instead of sleeping. And you don't even normally carry camp shoes. When you've exhausted the possibilities of camp shoes, you move on to other matters of vital importance, like finding the perfect sports bra.

7. You try on the overpriced organic mineral sunscreen you just bought, realize that it is the consistency of tar and the equivalent of white blackface (whiteface?) and start laughing hysterically by yourself in your room while covered in sunscreen.

8. You travel for a weekend away and find yourself wishing you had packed your digital scale.

9. Calories are being obsessively counted... not with the intention of cutting back like most people, but instead with the goal of doubling the average consumed.

10. You find yourself eating dehydrated hiking meals prepared in your real kitchen with real utensils and once again, can't stop laughing... both at the foolishness of preparing this junk like an actual meal and consuming something you'll be disgusted by and utterly sick of in just a few short weeks, and out of sheer, overwhelming excitement that this is actually happening. Again!

I am truly looking forward to hiking... filth, disgusting meals, deprivation and all. Here's hoping you'll stick around and experience this in all its hobo glory with me.

My nemesis... dehydrated black beans. I had a moment of weakness in the bulk bin aisle at the grocery store when confronted with a sale.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Becca Stadtlander

I know, I know. My inconsistency in posting has been off the charts lately. (Well, it hasn't been that bad but for those of you used to a post per day I apologize!) My mind has been spinning in futile circles lately; yesterday I tried to take a ten minute shower and ended up staring blankly at the walls for over forty minutes while I reiterated itineraries and mail drops and unfinished tasks in my head. It was completely and utterly useless. The Pacific Crest Trail has taken over my life, and I'm not even hiking yet.

Moving on to brighter things: Becca Stadtlander creates the most lovely illustrations and is yet another artist I kind of want to be.You can tell that nature makes her happy, and that makes me happy!

See you tomorrow. I promise.

Monday, April 2, 2012