Welcome to a story, or stories I should say. A compilation of adventure tales. An ongoing itch to see, smell, and touch the world, or at least the deserted roads and rarely trampled mountains of America. Characters within the descriptive paragraphs of these stories carve out the coming and going companions in life; vital life people and pieces that parallel a universe for moments, days, years. And then spear off, leaving granules of magnificent memories of magical places. They leave a lasting trace, a gained sense of courage to stand tall on oxygen deprived mountains and shout absurdities like: I love you Ralph! Ralph is a teenage reindeer stuffed of the finest synthetic polyester fiber poof; he says made in Indonesia but really tells me he is from the North Pole. Delivered through a chimney one December night 20 years ago, we instantly became cuddle buddies upon that morning's sunrise. He is the instigator. The inspiration. And the imagination. He breathes creativity. Laughter. His is a dear companion. And yes, at 4lbs he tags along atop a pack or strapped to a rack. In delirium of 107 degree heat, the small possession of material belongings gain a persona. Innate objects become friends of the road and trails. And as for the humans who accompany, their presence reads priceless. Without O'Reilly, a 29 year old New Hampshirian with superior taste buds, the mathematical six foot four inch tall German, or handful of organic peanut butter and 99 cent jam eating munchkins, there would be a lot less excitement. The encounters we make with our specie, encapsulating the world with their awkward ways and over consumerist love, somehow we have managed to become overly adored creatures. Their generous hearts restore a faith that goodness prevails in the upheaval of a sometimes lost humanity. As for myself, I'm just the navigator, paddling up the stream of life munching on Clif Bars, with an iPhone documenting the frailties and goodies underneath all the simplified complexities in the world we reside. So again, I welcome you to get lost and dream a little through this typed text and your imagination. My name is Kristen Gentilucci. I live in Berkeley California and I love dogs.

JMT South to North: SOLO in the SIERRAS 2015

A pile of waterless carbohydrates, vacuum sealed veggies, salt packets, and instant coffee lay limp in the corner room. Pages of a faded weathered map sat beside it. Their frayed creases burst through colored ink with white papery pulp. They told a story of use. Ragged neon-colored nylon fabrics, down feathers and Gore Tex, the gear that survived years of fun and ugly battle wounds were ready.

It's July, I handed my job back to my boss on the silver platter it was presented with and headed somewhere with a pair of hearty boots and devoid of mostly all humans, including the ones I loved. But I cannot muster the excitement to spill many words. My job, the people I had encountered, and their awful ways had left me speechless. There comes a point in life when you just walk away from all the drama and people who create it. It was a feeling that I had been buried deep within a hollow grave, drained of meaningful human interaction with a lack of laughter and luster. Not all, but too many annoying beings nagged like fruit flies at any opportunity for a sugar high. Their twisted language availed only for self indulgence. Pessimistic pulses wrenched through veins. And as time slipped by it became clear that no amount of prestige, and no amount of monetary gain was worth the kindness I sought within our own specie. It was time to quit, auddios, out. In less than a year, my energy had been rung out, sucked dry like a hard packed desert dirt that hadn't seen water in years. Energy suctioned out in a syringe in all the wrong places for all the wrong attitudes. Ralph, my dearest childhood companion, had become a lifeless stuff deer of past memories, comatose and shoved between wall and mattress, as if suddenly the responsibilities and expectations of world we inhabit silenced a written creativity. As if all the words had already been used. I left that building I referenced as my workplace for the last time with a gratefulness for meeting the people who spit my weaknesses right back in my face. And for the few friendly faces that always encouraged the best in me. And if those few friendly faces find their way to this page, I thank you for your kind words and smiles during the floods of toxic molasses. 

It took a lot to rile Ralph back to life. Maybe it was his new blue pack with a peep hole for adequate breathable comfort and a viewing observation deck. Or maybe it was his anger at the depressing word, that we were not longer headed on that famous dirt pathway to the North Pole. That 2,600 mile trail that author Cheryl Strayed had turned into the I-5 for hiking boots. I wanted no part in it anymore. At age 30, no longer is there much to prove to a gigantic mountains or anyone about unfathomable distance trekked. I can only yearn that too much solitude and crystal blue lakes, too many days missing my chef editor snoring by my side will reinvigorate a love of our specie again. And that maybe a solemn stranger on some narrow trail will inquisitively ponder my furry red nosed of a storyteller. And again goodness in the eyes and voices of humanity will sing louder than its hateful cries. 

July 17, 2015

There we were 7 days later, semi stranded in a funny town of Lakeshore Caifornia, drinking the first ice cold beverage of beer in days. Chatting it up with the 4 of 20 residents who's habitat is this tiny town, the Tour de France playing on the screen in the background of the "saloon". Whether you end up eating a dehydrated dinner with a grandpa at 12,000ft, or hitching a ride with a kind retired scientist that just gave you the mind boggling cliff notes to Poland's post WWII history in a 2 hour mountain drive. Or perhaps staring upon a mountain few dare to sweat and blister not once for, but twice. And maybe limping off 21 miles of a trail wailing down the side of a mountain with an angry reindeer, the adventure is sometimes in who you meet, even in the midst of solitude, and not necessarily a hike that was meticulously planned. 

It's July, California is in midst of the worst drought in centuries, and it's snowing. 

The wet flakes fell heavy from the awkwardly grey summer sky. Mountain peaks afar appeared like snow cones through a draped curtain of fog. There hadnt been enough snow all year in this peaks to keep the resorts bustling with snow sporting tourists seeking their powdery highs. And now in July, with a single pair of shorts and one navy blue down vest shoved between 8 days of food - it was unbelievably snowing. 

My ride to the eastern sierras was the best neighbor a person could have asked for. He went by Matt, but all the packages arrived with the name Matthewus Gregorgeousenous Smithsonilious. We would spend weeks arguing who could own less material possessions and yet he won on the morning when quietly knocking on the old wooden door he ask to borrow a single fork and plate. Realizing that there are greater things than routine city life, he shut down 8 years of his self proclaimed moving business, sold his minuscule life belongings, ended his 6 year lease, hopped in his white van, and starting driving east. Ralph and I hitched a ride. 

As he dropped me off at a lone gas station along the soul hwy 395, his blue eyes starred down at Ralph's head peering from the pack. "You brought that?" I looked at his face with laughter, both of us internally chuckling at the other. "Your towing your entire life across the country in a van which from the window appears to be a mere 500 lbs of books and one dinner plate." We laughed, hugged, and split ways forever. 

Ralph and I stood in the last town before humanistic society would be left behind. Beaver Sporting Goods was happily nestled across the wide open lonesome road. Frustratingly their selection of what was in dire need during a summer snowstorm was dull, less than the word meager describes. A lonesome few pairs of men's XL and 2XL log underwear hang from the stucko wall. Back across the street, at the tourist trading post, there were no other options and I bought the bulkest pair if black sweat pants, Yosemite in big bold white letters printed down the leg. Now with a bit of warm fabric, Ralph and I head out and hitched a ride with a nice small town couple up the twisty mountain road to the damp trailhead. 

It didn't take long to be reminded that there is something in these mountains that draws any seeker of natures beauty countless times back. As if the imperfections of asymmetry seen in every glimpse dull the sharp edges of our thoughts, worries, and obsessions. That unimaginable view disengages a harshness within ourselves and drowned anger. Life's nuisances shed their winter coat and almost instantly sanity and love was restored. 

The heart of the Sierras opened its doors to blistered toes. Glen Pass halted the hiking party. That 11,900ft peak grabbed high to the sky, and the grey clouds slapped back. More wallowing weather. Little patters of the half frozen droplets pinned my black hefty rain jacket to my flannel plaid button up. Soaking in every ounce of happiness a scenic view could offer, it became time to rush, down the wet mountain and straight into the best purchase made in years. Those $26 sweat pants engulfed more precious space than that overly loved stuffed deer. Their soft unwashed felt insides- the kind that only come in brand new sweatshirts, no yet pilled, were ready to turn any molecule of heat into a three hour rainy afternoon nap. The weather became a bipolar teenager showing off its lush baby blue skies then within moments back to its formulaic grey anger. It hailed white pellets of ice, dumped watery gallons, and angles bowled. 

Beginning to wonder if NestlĂ© had funneled the water straight from these alpine lakes to their underground bottling plant. Where we all just brainwashed citizens purchasing precious water by the ounce; lied to once again by dirty politicans? We never really know, this is America afterall, where bright green golf courses illuminate acres of dehydrated deserts. 

You are never really alone in the sierras on a mid summer day. And the charaters on these rocky dusty trails are usually the one's most would be happy to have met. It was grandpa in particular that stirred our attention. His real name is Clark, but his trail name, as he calls himself, is Grandpa. I'm not sure who started out chasing who for days, but my blue sneakers couldn't catch his tail on any of the mountain pass climbs. This elder man, who has lived nearly 70 times around the sun, would then be trailgating my 30 year old heels down the mountain, pushing multiple 17 mile days. We bonded over Muir Pass. Struggling for oxygen behind him, about to mentally break over this 10 mile sky high climb, his words agreed: these mountains are unforgiving; they only give back what you put in. After a three day game of tag, a monumental stone hut that marked the top, the hip belt to a 40lb backpack imprinted into my skin like another tattoo, Mr. Grandpa, the resurrected John Muir, and I stood like old friends on top of the world. 

It looked to be the start of a handful of days charaterized by Murphy's Law after that. The canister ran out of fuel. Bringing to edible life the waterless crispy black bean chili wasn't pleasant as it plumped in a long overnight soak. Half chewable, it got us through the 23 mile day.

But we didn't even make it to Muir Trail Ranch, a famous resupply hut deep in the woods, before annoying Murphy slipped back onto our path. Not sure what to call it: stupidity, stubbornness, or simply seeking a good view, Ralph and I hoisted up a large boulder to see the top of the world at sunset. It was all down hill from there. A twisted knee, morning awoke and it was 22 miles down to the valley floor in sheer pain. Tears rolled uncontrollably off sunburnt cheeks. And that was that. 

I hobbled into the Ranch, ate pounds of graciously gifted trail mix, and begged someone else's God to get us out of these woods. I watched Grandpa trail off to conquor another oxygen deprived pass, continuing on his travels like a young fit lad. It took another full day of hobbling, involved a horse and a ferry, and an Alaskan Pastor who prayed for a healing miracle. It is in these moments, suddenly realizing the adventure became not exactly the maticulaiouly beautiful route, but finding a love in peoples stories. The story of grandpa or a fellow and his wife who precisely describe hunting wild moose and butcher them for an Alaskan night community stew. Or the nice fellow who taught his limping American passanger about Poland's history. Or a friendly mountain town community that fed me breakfast and a lovely young mountain town mom who drove all the way down the mountain to a 5 hour train ride back to Oakland. 

And just like that, our mountain souls were spit back into city life. So greatful for hot drinkable coffee stirred with fresh cold cream, yet solemn and somber to leave a so craved euphoric high. But with all frowns and tears, with time there comes something to smile about, to probably only be washed away again, and to be found again in something else.

And at the end of the day, guess it is easy to say, that in the midst of our busy bustling personal lives, we get wrapped up in useless drama and unnecessary things, forgetting behind the facade we are all just human. Just two legged beings needing to laugh and be loved no matter who we are or where we go. 

    View from Kerasarge Pass 11845ft

    View from Glen Pass looking down at Rae Lakes 11979 ft

    View from Pinchot Pass looking North 12130ft 

    Looking up at Mather Pass 12100ft

    Deer Meadow

    Meadow between Mather and muir pass

    View from Muir Pass looking south 11995 ft

    View from Muir Pass looking north over Lake Wanda 11995 ft

    Evolution Valley 

    View looking North from Glen Pass over Rae Lakes

   Glen Pass

       Looking North at Pinchot Pass

        Finn Dome - Rae Lakes

        Valley between the Golden Staircase and Muir Pass

        Muir Hut with Grandpa 

        The Sunset that was worth the view

        The End.