The Pacific Crest Trail Theory of Writing

A new mystery writer posted an interesting question in a writing group I run. She wanted to know how to make her story unique.

It’s a good question because almost every situation imaginable has already been written. Almost every character is now a cliché because authors have taken the clichéd character, turned it on its head, and created a shadow cliché of the original.

But still, there is originality even in the most banal situation. A situation becomes unique and original if you fully develop the characters and the situation. You give the good guys bad characteristics and the good guys good characteristics. You show why your characters are the way they are, giving them good reasons rather than just throwing them into the mix fully formed. You tie them to the story, making their characteristics an integral part of the plot. When you find that your story is going too much in one direction (straight to the resolution of the plot, for example), you turn the situation and throw more trauma at your characters. What does this trauma do the clichéd drunk cop? Make him or her give up drinking? What does the new trauma do to a clichéd rookie cop? Make him or her stronger, weaker, more determined, go seek counsel from someone who has been a tormentor? And you work against their characteristics and strengths. If the rookie is smart, throw her into a situation where her intelligence is no help. If the drunkenness of the cop is a liability, throw him into a situation where the drunkenness becomes an asset.

You can also find uniqueness in what the characters see. (That’s what made Sherlock Holmes so popular — he saw things differently from other people.)

And you can look at things through a different kind of glass. For example, I lost someone very dear to me a few years ago, and now I cannot write a character that isn’t affected by that grief. For another example, people who hike the Pacific Crest Trail are always afterward affected by what happened to them on the trail.

So, this brings me to the Pacific Crest Trail Theory of Writing. Every year, thousands of people attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the beginning to the end. The trail is always the same. It is what it is. In a way, the people are always the same, too, divided primarily into a couple of groups — the kids (mostly boys) just out of college and older recently retired couples. (Though people from all over the world of all ages hike the trail, these are the two biggest groups.) Despite this similarity, each of those hikers hikes a different trail and a different hike because each one of those hikers has a different motive and motivation, each sees something different, each reacts differently to what they experience.

And so it is with writing — it is the characters, their motives and motivations, how they experience what they experience, that makes a story unique.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


Gear Talk

I once read an article by a woman who quit the Pacific Crest Trail mid-hike. One of the reasons was that she never quite found her “trail family,” though I got the impression she was even more disappointed by her lack of “trail tail.” (Yep, that’s a real thing.) Another reason was that she found the thru-hiking culture elitist — apparently, all anyone ever talked about was how many miles they’d walked, when they’d started, and what gear they carried. Mostly they talked about their gear, with the ultra-ultra-light folks looking down on those who carried a few extra pounds, whether in their packs or on their bodies.

What made me think of this is that a woman contacted me a couple of days ago. Four years older than I am, she is also thinking about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s been nice connecting with someone more in my demographic than is generally prevalent in the hiking forums, someone who shares my particular worries.

Our last few exchanges have been about — drum roll — you guessed it! Our gear.

Since neither she nor I are planning on doing monster miles (don’t you love all these thru-hike terms I’m throwing at you?), we both agree that comfort is more important than a bit of extra weight — a comfortable pack, a comfortable sleep system, a comforting amount of emergency supplies. (Some of the lightest of the ultra-light hikers dispense with such “unnecessary” things as an emergency medical kit, a compass, extra socks, iodine tablets or something like that for a backup water purifier.)

In case you’re curious, these are my “big three” — the term for pack, tent, sleep system: Gregory J53 pack; Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, Big Agnes double z insulated sleeping pad, and a zero-rated Enlightened Equipment camping quilt.

I couldn’t decide what size tent to get, so I ordered the UL2 (which means an ultra light two person tent). I immediately regretted not ordering the UL1 (a one-person tent) because it would have been a bit of weight saving, but the tent I ordered is a good size for me, and the weight just doesn’t seem worth worrying about. (Though thru-hikers worry about every fraction of an ounce. Some even cut off the handle of their toothbrush and trim the various straps on their backpacks.) So far, the only time I’ve used the tent was on my cross-country trip — I was so cold, I put the Big Agnes inside my big dome tent. I really enjoyed having a canopied bed!

A zero-rated quilt or sleeping bag is one that will keep you alive, though not necessarily comfortable, at zero degrees. My quilt barely keeps me warm when the temperature drops to thirty-five degrees, but I also have a second, lighter quilt I could bring, or perhaps half of a fleece throw. Why a quilt? I don’t like sleeping bags. Too confining. And it takes too much time to unzip. With an aging bladder, I figure I need to be able to get up as quickly as possible. (Too much information, I know, but this is the sort of thing I have to contemplate that young hikers don’t.)

And the sleeping pad — what can I say? It’s a bit heavier than what some people bring, a lot heavier than what the ultra-ultra light hikers use, but it is comfortable, and it keeps the ground temperature from being a problem. (Normally, I sleep propped up on a few pillows, but somehow, I can’t see me wandering the wilderness with a huge mound of pillows tied to the outside of my pack, though it would provide amusement to anyone who saw me.)

My “big three” weighs a total of ten pounds, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider all the other stuff I will need to carry. I’m hoping to keep clothes and the small bits of gear to a maximum of eight pounds, which would give me a base weight of 18 pounds, which is respectable, but I don’t know if I can do it. I, for one, need to have extra socks and other such amenities. And then, on top of that, there is all the food and water that needs to be carried. This should be enough to make me want to give up on my impossible dream, but oddly, all it does it make me consider how to get rid of the impossible part and keep only the dream.

There. Now you too got to participate in gear talk. Wasn’t that fun?


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Too Old to Hike the Pacific Crest Trail?

Ever since I’ve started walking with a twenty-five pound pack two or three days a week, I’ve been waking up extremely stiff and sore and wobbly even on non-hiking days. Apparently, that’s what I get for trying to build up my strength!

Still, I would have thought that increased activity would eventually translate to an increase in agility and and mobility, but that’s not happening. At my age, tendons and ligaments lose elasticity, muscles lose strength (at a whopping 30% per decade without high intensity workouts and additional protein intake to offset the loss), and joints can be painful even if there is nothing particularly wrong with them. (So if I weren’t trying to build up my strength, I’d probably still wake up stiff and sore.)

Once I’ve “oiled” my muscles and joints by moving around and stretching a bit, I am okay, but I worry about the night stiffness and early morning adjustment on the trail, so I’ve been researching the feasibility of long-distance backpacking for older adults. I know there are quite a few famous folks who backpacked well into their eighties, but some of them were life-long athletes, others seem naturally strong or obstinate. But what about regular folks like me who aren’t particularly athletic and who come to backpacking later in life? The prospect of a long distance backpacking trip, or even a short one, is daunting enough without adding the challenge of age to the mix.

Apparently, though, for someone in reasonable health, there’s no reason not to attempt such a trek, (though anyone with even the beginnings of heart or lung problems would need to check with their doctor before setting out). From what I can gather, everyone, no matter what their age, hurts on the trail. Older folks just have to be careful to stretch when possible, use trekking poles to save knees, elevate the legs when resting to redistribute the blood flow, and carry as light a pack as is feasible. (Feasible for an older person is different than for a younger one. Some hikers can get by with a tarp for a tent, or an almost non-existent sleeping pad, but not me. I need a bit of comfort or I’d never sleep, and if I never slept, I wouldn’t get very far.)

Of course, age is truly relative when it comes to backpacking. I recently came across a demographic survey of hikers, comparing the younger folks with the older folks, and the cut-off age was thirty-four. (The “young” group was under thirty-four, the “old” group was thirty-four and up.) And, in a forum discussing the advisability of older folks thru hiking, I came across a query from a fellow who said he was going to be turning thirty, and he wanted to know if he was too old to attempt a thru hike.

Interestingly, older folks who did long-distance backpacking trips after retirement seemed to have more fun than the younger ones because they knew what they wanted from a hike. Some wanted to go the distance, others just wanted to be out in the wilderness for five months. While a lot of the younger folks complained about the hardships, the older folks enjoyed all of it, even the rain and such because often they were fulfilling a lifelong dream. Some of the experienced older hikers did the same sort of insane mileage as the younger ones, but most seemed okay with going slower and savoring the journey, whatever the length. Older people are also more liable to enjoy the hike because after a certain age, pain and stiffness are a fact of life, so physical discomfort might not as much as an affront as it would be to a younger person.

If I were looking for reasons to give up my idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (more than the day hikes I have already done, that is), I didn’t find them.

So, this weekend I will add another pound to my pack weight for my conditioning hike and bring my impossible dream a step closer to possible.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

What I Should Be Doing

I did a quiz about what I should be doing for the next six months. This is the response I got:

For real!! Admittedly, the quiz was sponsored by a sporting goods store focused on hiking, but still, to get such a response seems . . . prophetic.

For sure do I seek change. In fact, I desperately need a change. And I certainly am ready to strap on my boots and just take off. It sounds so wonderful to go where the wind blows and the trail goes. But though my mind (and will) are strong, the body is still so weak. My ability to carry a twenty-five pack for any length of time has more to do with growing stubbornness than growing strength, which makes me wonder about any sort of multi-day hike.

I keep telling myself all I have to do is get through the next two months, and then I can head north. I do not want to come back, but I promised, and much as it pains me, I try to keep my promises.

But then, who knows?

Actually, what my heart really longs for is to go back home to Jeff, but that is not a possibility since he’s gone, so the PCT will have to do.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

A Perfect Thing

I used to think ours was a dystopian world, a world where the rich own us; the corporations control us; the alphabet agencies spy on us and perform experiments on us; and the government keeps us in perpetual wars so that we never see the truth of what is being done to us.

Well, I still think that’s true, but now I wonder if we are more like the way Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

It’s possible we are living in the worst of times and living in the best of times. A dystopia for sure, but also a utopia. Our sphere of freedom might be narrowing, but within that narrow sphere, we can still find the freedom to be who we want to be, to think what we want to think, to dream what we want to dream and to try to make those dreams come true.

Notice I say we have the freedom to try to make our dreams come true. Not all things are possible. Sometimes we don’t have the money or the knowledge or the health or the courage or the willingness to sacrifice to make those dreams come true, but we do have the freedom to try.

My dream, the impossible dream that has me in its clutches, makes ours seem not such a dystopian world after all (as long as I stay away from political rants on Facebook, anyway).

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is not an impossible dream for many people — they have the strength, the money, the knowledge, the courage. For some, such as recent college graduates, it isn’t even much of a sacrifice because they don’t have spouses and children to leave behind.

In my case, even though I might have the time, the money (at least temporarily), and maybe even the courage, I have doubts about my fitness level even for a long section hike. To make the logistics work, I’d have to be able to hike at least ten miles a day carrying a pack, and I simply don’t know if that would ever be possible. And I don’t know if I have mental stamina. Last night before I fell asleep, a feeling of horror came over me. “You’re thinking of doing what?” I screeched to myself. “Are you out of your mind?”

Whether it’s an impossible utopian dream or a dystopian nightmare waiting to happen, a long saunter on the Pacific Crest Trail has truly captured my imagination.

The PCT is such a perfect thing in and of itself. As Danny DeVito said in Other People’s Money, “It don’t care whether I’m good or not. It don’t care whether I snore or not. It don’t care which God I pray to.” He was talking about money, of course (money and donuts were his two obsessions), but the trail doesn’t care. It doesn’t care who trods its soil, doesn’t care how fat you are, doesn’t care how slow you go, doesn’t care about anything at all. It just is.

Think of it. A viable walking path that extends all the way from Mexico to Canada. Isn’t that utterly amazing? The Appalachian Trail starts in Georgia, the Continental Divide Trail has not yet been completed, though experienced hikers do manage to find their way from top to bottom. But the Pacific Crest Trail is completed, and even neophytes can (and do) attempt to hike the whole thing. And we each, individually, own it. Or at least, we own the bit of land we happen to be standing on at any given moment. We own the dreams the trail engenders. We own the views we can claim. We own the experience of a wilderness that is still mostly pristine.

Sounds to me like utopia, a utopia that is available to anyone who wishes to escape the dystopia the media consistently foists on us.

Interestingly, in the past couple of days, I have found inspiration from two separate sources — and on Facebook of all places.

John Smith, a LASHer (Long A** Section Hiker) responded to my concerns about how PCT thru hikers treat those who don’t fit the usual mold of hikers. He wrote:

You are likely to find your ‘trail family’ out there but I have to be honest, you might not. Receive the gifts you find on the trail in those you meet, the sights you see, and the challenges you overcome. Add to the peace and joy of others as you connect with them and as you disconnect as well. In all that you do, on the trail or off, grow and stretch and grasp for the next life-altering experience. It will be challenging, hard, uplifting and at times tear you apart inside but as you close your eyes each night you can reflect on the growth of the day and the strength you can bring to the world around you.

I found those words so beautiful I asked permission to post them here, and luckily for all of us, John agreed.

The second thing that moved me is the image attached to this article, a gift from my dear and so very wise friend Nanna Murakami.

Whether I ever actually go backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail seems unimportant right now. What is important is that I walk with love in my steps and receive the gifts that each of those steps bring.

There is more than a bit of utopia in that.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Researching the PCT

I had an interesting realization this morning — my dream of a long, long, long walk doesn’t necessarily mean a thru-hike. (Well, the realization was interesting to me, anyway.)

In hiking jargon, a thru hike is from end to end, from the beginning of the trail to the end of the trail, though it doesn’t have to be done that way. Because of the immense throng attempting thru-hikes on the iconic trails, the starting point can be insanely packed, so some people are splitting the trail in sections, maybe beginning in the middle, going to the end, and then getting a ride back to the start of the trail, and hiking to the middle where they began. Apparently, as long as you finish the trail in a year, it’s considered a thru-hike.

It sounds good — taking a year to hike the trail. But there isn’t really a full year for the hike when you consider the heat of the desert in summer, the late snow packs and early snows in the high country, streams swollen with melt-off, fires, and a thousand other weather related issues. The hiking season is usually six months, which means a lot of miles per day when you’re talking about a total distance of 2,650 miles.

It would be nice if I could do a thru hike, but I’m not an athlete, and I have no aspirations to be one. I am a saunterer, off to see what I can see, out to be what I can be. If I get strong enough to walk a lot of miles, that’s fine, but I’m satisfied with five to seven miles a day. Which means approximately 442 days for me to do the entire Pacific Crest Trail. I bet taking it slow and easy, and not having to push through heavy weather or harsh aches and pains would make the trail a lot more like a walk in the park than an endurance test.

One other realization that showed up this morning, and a big change from other times I thought of doing the trail, is that the logical place for me to start would be at the beginning. The southern part of the trail is desert. Hmmm. Desert? Aren’t I getting myself acclimated to hiking in the desert?

Whenever I’ve thought of doing a long distance hike on the PCT, I thought about starting after the desert — the desert section frightens me because of the need to carry extra water. But now that I have gotten to like the desert so much, hiking the desert section sounds wonderful. Well, except for the water situation. Perhaps it would work if I hiked the desert section in the fall, though by then, some of the seasonal water sources will have been turned off.

If the desert sections were simply desert, that would be a perfect long-distance hike for winter because although water would still be a problem, there wouldn’t be as great a need for hydration as in the heat of the summer. But those desert sections contain mountains, too, which means snow.

How do I know all this? Oh, the internet is a wondrous thing! I spend way too much time reading articles about the trail, about gear, about survival, about the various dangers and wonders.

It could be that because of all this research, I will have mentally spent so much on the trail that my mind will believe I have already hiked it. Then it will stop urging me to go adventuring, and I can stay inside with my feet up, reading about those people with blisters and swollen feet and worn-out shoes who actually are hiking the trail.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Gift is in the Preparation

I woke this morning to the sound of wind squeaking through my ill-fitted bedroom window.

(Hmm. Wind. Window. Is there a relationship here? Be right back; I need to check the etymology of window. Yep. They’re related. Window comes from Old Norse words vindr meaning wind and auga meaning eye. So a window is a wind eye, or a wind hole. The earliest mention of window came early in the 13th century, and it meant an unglazed hole in the roof. So originally a window let in the wind and now it keeps it out?)

But back to the matter at hand . . .

I snuggled under the covers, thinking that I’d take a zero day today. (A zero day in backpacking terms is a day when no miles are gained.) Then I remembered my weekends are supposed to mimic a backpacking trip, and if I were really out in the wilds, I’d have to keep on the move. (Or not. There is that zero day thing.)

I remembered also that I only have these three days each week to condition myself to carrying a pack, since I have dance class the other four days. (I still hope for grace and balance from dance. It could happen.) And I need all three backpacking days to get used to carrying extra weight.

So, I got dressed, shrugged on the pack and headed into the wind. Yikes. Cold! And gusty. Some of those gusts were so strong they almost blew me over. But I did it — trudged four miles, teetering in the wind, with twenty-two pounds on my back — and I realized that though the goal might be to backpack on the Pacific Crest Trail, the gift is in the doing. It was hard going today, but what a thrill to be on my feet, moving through the blustery air, racking up the miles. Admittedly, four miles isn’t exactly “racking up the miles,” but still, to be able to walk any distance is a true wonder.

It seems funny that I’ve been thinking, writing, talking about the Pacific Crest Trail for so many years — four-and-a-half years since my first mention of the PCT, four years since my first hike on the trail — but until this very year, I never actually strapped on a backpack to try to train myself for such an epic hike.

I still don’t know if I can do any long distance sauntering, but as I discovered today, the PCT is the goal. The gift is in the preparation. And that, for sure, I can do — even on a windy day.

I still remember seeing this sign and taking the photo when I was on a different outing (to find the San Andreas Fault). I was so excited to see evidence of this mythical trail that I walked up the path a bit, but then I had to turn around because neither of my companions had any interest in the trail at all. I’ve done many day hikes since then, but still no overnights. That fearful joy is still to come.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.


I had a great day yesterday, but then, I always have an especially good time when hiking. Hiking is my therapy, my peace, my freedom. And when I have the perfect companion, hiking is bliss, even when the temperature hits a hundred or more.

Although my cross-country road trip was supposed to include a lot of hiking, I wrenched my hip at ballet class shortly before I left. And driving — all that sitting — only exacerbated the matter. I still managed a few good hikes along the way, but often the pain kept me from long treks. It was only after I figured out that the pain came not from the sciatic nerve but the accompanying piriformis muscle that I was able to find the proper stretches to help heal the muscle. And now, finally, I can hike again.

When a neighbor invited me to go on a hike with her on the nearby Pacific Crest Trail, I jumped at the chance. And oh, how sublime! The part of the trail we walked was fairly easy with no severe elevation changes and only a couple of treacherous spots where the trail had degraded. We ended up at a lovely tree-shaded spot by the golden Deep Creek where we lazed so long, I missed my dance class. But a hike, a new friend, easy conversation, and a creekside idyll were things not to be missed.

The hike back seemed even easier because we were prepared for the bad spots.

Although it can be dangerous hiking in the desert heat, which is why I always carry plenty of water, there is one factor besides the obvious joy of being out in nature that comes from such a trek — the feeling of deep and abiding inside-out cleanliness and freshness that results when one finally gets a chance to shower away the sweat.

Refreshment. Means a whole lot more than just the simple snack we enjoyed beneath the trees by the side of the creek.


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


A Time of Preparation

The lazy days are flowing one into the other, and it seems as if my life has come to a standstill, as if the stagnation I fear has already set in, but however I feel, the truth is, this has been a year of unprecedented adventure, change, and awe.

I started out the year in my father’s house, dealing with grief for all my dead while I cleaned out his “effects” and readied the house for sale. I gathered all my friends together for a Pre-Probate Party to celebrate the last days before his will went into probate, the last days I knew for sure I would have a place to live. Since then, I have never been without a place to live, though I stayed on couches, lived in a camper, house-sat a few times, and even rented a room for a couple of months. (Oddly, I am ending the year in this same precarious position as I started because my current room is in a house that’s for sale, and soon I will again be Stepping From The Known Into The Unknown.)

Sometime during those last days at my father’s house where I tried to imagine Unimagined Possibilities, I found myself with a new philosophy: Either Things Will Work Out Or They Won’t, which allowed me to stop worrying so much and instead let me enjoy the uncertainties of my new life. If things work out, obviously, I don’t have to worry, and if they don’t work out, there’s nothing I can do about it now because I have no idea in what way they won’t work out. Or things might work out in a way I couldn’t even fathom, which is what usually happens.


And so I drifted through my days. I continued to take the dance classes, which I love, but I dreamed of . . . more. Something epic. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or the as yet unfinished California Coastal Trail. Perhaps stepping foot on the Appalachian Trail (which a friend recently told me is pronounced Apple-atchian. Okay. Got it. Now I know the most important thing about the trail if ever I decided to hike a bit of it.) I also considered a more realistic venture since I do not think I have the ability to carry a heavy backpack for many miles — visiting national parks and day hiking to sample a variety of trails and terrains.


A friend, who knew my dreams of adventure, invited me to stay with her and volunteered to drop me off at trail heads and pick me up when I was finished with my hike so that I could experience adventure in a relatively safe manner. And so began two magical months of hiking along the ocean, losing myself in the forest (not getting lost geographically, more like letting the forest take me over), becoming one with . . . myself, perhaps. I am usually of two minds about everything, so I am often beset with doubts, worry, and internal discussions. But not up in the redwoods. Not by the ocean. There, I was simply me. Simply happy.

One of the things I had been of two minds about centered around my ancient VW bug, A Forty-Three-Year-Old Lemon. I considered replacing the iconic car with some sort of van I could turn into a mini-home, considered getting an automobile big enough to sleep in, considered, oh, so many possibilities, but in the end decided to keep the poor old thing a little longer. After all, how many people can say they have only owned one car in their whole life, a vehicle they bought new and kept going through the decades? And the way I figured, if I bought a new car now, in five years, it would be old. If I bought a new car five years from now, five years from now it would be new.

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Still, if I were going on a long trip to visit parks and meet online friends, I would prefer to look like a near-classic lady in a near-classic car rather than a homeless woman in a rattletrap, so I found someone who would do the body work. All I wanted was a couple of holes patched and enough rust gone so it could be painted, and six months later, six months of learning to do without a vehicle, what I found at The Great Reveal!! was a full body restoration. And because the outside looked so beautiful, I had to have the inside reupholstered because it truly looked pathetic in relation to the lovely body. And then, when I took it to my mechanic for a tune-up before my cross-country trip and he expressed concerns about the engine lasting for all those miles, well, now I have a new engine, transmission, and a lot of other new parts, and Oh, My, My Erstwhile Lemon Is a Beauty!

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Despite the awesomeness of this year, it seems to me as if it is . . . was . . . a time of preparation, not just for the coming year, but for a new way of living and thinking. I can’t go on a cross-country trip until I have put 500 miles on the new engine and have all the kinks worked out, but I am ready to meet the changes and challenges of both the trip and the coming year.

At least, I hope I am.



(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

Visiting Heaven in Hell

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)


Going with the flow is taking me interesting places, most recently to heaven in hell. (I’m trying to be clever, and probably not succeeding.)

A friend had a conference in Palm Springs, and she let me hitch a ride with her. The weather was hellishly hot, but the scenery was heavenly and made up for any discomfort.

We wandered through the botanical gardens — a veritable treasure trove of cactuses. We admired the statuary arrayed around town. We feasted on old fashioned hamburgers and utterly fantastic malts at a fifties-style diner and nibbled our way around the edges of a casino buffet that featured a huge assortment of vegetable dishes.

And we took the tram to the top of Mount San Jacinto (an ascent of two and a half miles) where I stared at the tops of the trees and wondered if I could ever traverse the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.

Do I really have the courage to live an adventurous life? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t really dived adventure yet. This weekend was more like dipping my toe into a tide pool while the whole of the ocean beckoned to me.

But still, tame though the trip might have been, it was adventure of a sort.