Summits, Hail, and Fire Closures

Cumulative Miles: 252

Location: Moonridge Coffee Shop, Big Bear Lake, CA

I can and will speak for all of my friends, we are SO happy to be north of the fire closure! A logistical nightmare, a loss of control, and a mentally trying “out and back,” woof.

We get laughed at everywhere we go. It's wonderful.

We get laughed at everywhere we go. It’s wonderful.

The week started on a beautiful Sunday morning. We had a 2.5 mile road walk to get to the Devils Slide (not exactly a good omen for a Sunday) trailhead. About a mile into our road walk, a trail angel named David pulled over and picked us up. He gave us all a stick of Lifesavers (wild cherry) and provided well wishes and an escape from another 1.5 miles on a windy uphill backroad. Thanks for being a trail angel David!

Snow up high

Snow up high

We climbed up the trail and summitted Mt. San Jacinto (yah-sinto). To summit you have to leave the PCT for a few miles, but I’m not sure how hikers resist the urge to summit a mountain when it’s literally right there. Right next to you! Bonus miles! Centerfold and I cruised up the mountain but then struggled a bit with the high elevation and steepness of the last mile. We climbed 5,000′ in just a few hours and snacked on the summit of 10,800′. Always the best feeling in the world, always.

Life photo: avo, vodka, mountain summit

Life photo: avo, vodka, mountain summit

It was clear, sunny, and filled with day hikers who were so impressed by our speed with our packs. They all thought we were camping at the top, in which I had a few smart-ass comments. I mean really? What is this, our first day? Yep we can’t wait to camp up here in the wind and hailstorm that is surely coming, we love complete exposure! Hell, we might not even set up our tents since it’s so certain to be a delightfully gentle night at 11,000 feet! Cripes, SoCal, cripes.

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As we began to descend, I remembered how much I hate going downhill. There was a lot of snow and debris that made it painfully slow, and the weather was starting to get moody. The goal was to camp at mile 190, at 7,700 ft. We quickly realized that was still too high for our sissy-ass “we don’t want to be cold” legion. (I’m the leader of that club by the way, don’t you worry, I will do ANYTHING for a shot at sleeping even a degree warmer than projected).

yep, cold. But manageable!

yep, cold. But manageable!

It was getting dark, but we decided we all had at least 3 more miles in us. We raced down the mountain in efforts to find a campsite as low as possible before complete darkness.

Toe touching my way to Canada!

Perspective.

At mile 193 we found a spot and threw up our tents as quickly and gingerly as the wind advisory let us. It was brisk. I found a bush, and decided to squeeze my tent in it for extra protection. It proved to be ineffective.

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We all ate dinner in our tents that night, and I snuggled up to my new book, The Boxcar Children: THE PIZZA MYSTERY. #33. Can you think of anything more comforting while camping in a wind/hailstorm? Me neither, it proved effective.

We took down our tents in the hail (I was the last to leave by far, I was convinced the sun was going to come out as long as I laid there not moving). I knew today was going to be no fun (great attitude, Jules), 20 miles of steep downhill. My calves were in knots from the climb yesterday and my knee was stiff from the descent yesterday afternoon. I went into batshit crazy mode and decided to race down the mountain. The storm, I decided, was out to get me, and I wouldn’t let it catch me. Besides, I couldn’t feel my hands, and needed to warm up fast. So many switchbacks, so much muscle cramping. The storm subsided and ended up being sunny once a couple thousand feet lower. Felt really, really, lucky about that. The wind still threatened to push me off the cliff, but it’s been doing that all month, so I’m done taking that crap seriously. (I’m so tough).

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Once getting down to sea-level, we all took the death trudge through the sandy desert towards HWY I-10, the highway we saw all day, the highway we were yearning for.

Little spoon finds comfort in the luxuries provided by the I-10 underpass

Little spoon finds comfort in the luxuries provided by the I-10 underpass

Oh the changes an hour can make. So many environments in one day, my body is so confused. I dragged my trekking poles behind me through the sand and am pretty sure I blacked out for 4 miles. Luckily, Camels old landlord came to get us in the evening and we stayed the night with him. His name is Jerry and he is a SAINT. We went in his pool/hot-tub, and slept on his floor. He went to clown college and turned off the lights, lit a candle, and told us ghost stories as we fell asleep. Big kid slumber party! Longest day ever? Yes, yes it was, but with the most terrific unexpected ending. Couldn’t have thought up anything weirder, glory.

Woke up to hail, ending the day with a stroll under palm trees towards a hot tub. Life makes no sense.

Woke up to hail and then ending the day with a stroll under palm trees towards a hot tub. Life makes no sense.

There is an unfortunate 16 mile fire closure on the next section, so we decided to make up those miles by doing an “out and back” in the beautiful Mission Creek area. Jerry dropped us off and Camel, Centerfold and I busted out a quick 14 miles that afternoon. (We got a late start because we woke up to Jerry making eggs and coffee, thus providing the single greatest moment of my life. Thanks again Jerry!). We left behind little spoon and chuckles because they were annoying us. OR because they had lunch plans and met us later that night. Whichever.

We spent 3 days in Mission Creek. Three.long.days. The second day was the toughest for me. I felt really low-energy the previous day, and knew for sure it was an iron deficiency. I didnt feel any better the next morning, but tried to power through it. I was a little behind the pack and got lost in a swampy area. The trail hasn’t been used in a year, so we bushwhacked through a lot of overgrowth, providing tons of bloodshed and bruises. And a weird foot tumor, to be discussed at a later date. Anyways, during my time in the swamp, I lost most of my composure, got really frustrated, internalized it, and whimpered quietly for the next few miles. It was pathetic. I was also convinced I got bit by a snake (fine, was probably stinging nettle or poodle-dog bush, but felt like venom I tell ya!) my leg went numb and tingled all day, like a million little spiders were crawling around under my skin, it was a delight.

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Maggie (chuckles) felt my struggle and did what any best friend would do –> start up a conversation about Mooses. I don’t know where it came from, but it was perfect. Moose are my spirit animal, I’m kind of obsessed with them. Mooses make life better. It took a few more miles but I eventually pulled myself out of my mind-funk. Thank you Chuckles, for somehow knowing exactly what I needed.

We all had an off-day. I just took the morning shift. After many miles of analysis, my emotions came from just a complete loss of control. To get around this fire closure we had to rely on so many different people and things to work it out. The beauty of this trail is that it’s A –> B. No back-tracking, no bus-taking, no reliance on anyone other than to get into towns to resupply. Progress, everyday with each step, we make progress. It’s a very self-sufficient independent venture. But when faced with a fire-closure, it became a logistical nightmare. We all felt it at different levels. Combine it with pure exhaustion and negative iron levels, and you have one emotional Toe Touch.

A luxurious bfast

A luxurious breakfast to help any mood.

I’d like to thank the Mile 55 team for helping me out of my funk. Thank you, Camel, for half of your snickers bar. Thank you, Spoon, for giving me your take on every presidential candidate and completely taking my mind off of hiking for a couple miles. Thank you, Chuckles, for staying in the back with me and discussing the Moose of Maine, buttery cookies, and Catholicism. And for the pack of olives. And thank you, Centerfold, for taking your “I’m losing my mind” shift at the end of the day, choosing not to camp with us (or at all), hiking through the night, and rejoining us the next afternoon looking completely crazy and confirming how badly we all lost it that day.

Where we found Centerfold the next day, alone, passed out on a urine-scented wet carpet. Don't ask questions.

Where we found Centerfold the next day, alone, passed out on a urine-scented wet carpet. Don’t ask questions.

We all learned a lot of stuff in Mission Creek. My biggest takeaway was to remember to stay present. Take it day by day, even mile by mile. The task ahead is daunting, but if I keep my focus on each day, I’ll be much more mentally stable (hopefully). ????

What? I'M LOW-IRON ?

What? I’M LOW-IRON ?

 

Trail Names, Trail Magic, Spoiled Hikers

Cumulative Miles: 151.9 Location: Idyllwild, CA

Closing out our second week on the trail in an amazing little mountain town called Idyllwild. Reminds me of a small-scale Jackson Hole, and described by Shaughn Dugan as “a little slice of Oregon in Southern California.” Log cabins, cafes, small organic market, friendly people, it’s been a delightful morning. Although last night I had a taco salad and threw that up rather quickly. The diet is changing, and the body can’t handle a little fiesta I suppose.

Backpack on and tire swingin' my life away, lush life

Backpack on and tire swingin’ my life away, lush life

Several times a day I ask myself 2 questions: “Where are we?” and “What’s the rush?”

The answer to “Where are we?” is never answered. I don’t get it. I am really bad at geography and had no idea we’d be cruising through so many mountains in this so-called “desert.” I’m a moron. I like to go into adventures blindly because I don’t want my opinions to be biased or previously formulated by other people. I only like to know where the next water is, I feel that is important. This being said, the scenery has been unbelievable, and always being surprised at each switchback keeps my spirits and curiosity high.

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What’s the rush? There is none. But I’ve gotten into this weird rhythm that whenever there is a long climb and unrelenting sun baking me alive, I speed up. My legs detach from my body and before I know it 2 hours have gone by, and I’m sitting in a patch of shade with my shoes off. It might be my favorite part of the day. When I meet up with everyone later I tell them how much fun I had on that climb, they give me looks of confusion and Mark says “Julie, I’m a bigger fan of type 2 fun.” I love the challenge sunny exposed inclines bring, and it’s always welcoming to find your flow on the trail, but don’t worry, I do stop a lot to take it all in. It is way too gorgeous not to.

Eagle Rock!

Eagle Rock!

Trail Names! As stated in the previous post, our trail group name is “Mile 55.” We now all have individual trail names as well. Maggie and Mark, Chuckles and Little Spoon, have thru-hiked the Appalachian trail and already had nicknames. Maggie is “Chuckles” because she laughs at everything really loudly with a great contagious rhythm. And because she’s an evil clown. Mark is “Little Spoon,” because they are married and Maggie is the dominant sleeper. We like to just call him Spoon. Jon has been named “Centerfold” because he is very set on his opinion (fact) of the worst song ever written and recorded. The question has one answer, and one answer only. All other answers are invalid and will not even be considered. The worst song ever is Centerfold, by the J. Geils Band. End of discussion. Shaughn has been named “The Camel of Corvallis” after a story he swears he will tell us one day, but we all have a very good feeling he is making it all up. There is no story. But he promises one. We just call him Camel which is great because he does a great Camel impression. I have been named “Toe Touch” because I start and end everyday with a TOE TOUCH. Why? Because it’s a MOOD BOOSTER.

The couple who picked me up hitchhiking bought us a round of drinks at the wine bar later that night! Thanks again Jim&Marti, you're amazing!

The couple who picked me up hitchhiking bought us a round of drinks at the wine bar later that night! Thanks again Jim&Marti, you’re amazing!

All in all, this last week has been amazing. It’s been high 80’s during the day, and low 40’s at night. We are sleeping a bit better, and have been smelling worse than every wet dog you’ve ever had, combined, in a landfill. We end each day with bandanna sponge baths, eat supper at sunset, and retire to our tents before 8PM. We take a 2 hour break in the midday heat and try to get a little siesta in. We begin hiking at different times, and all catch up around lunch and hike most of the afternoons together. We understand everyone’s desire for a little personal space, but really enjoy being together. We make friends with new hikers and then scare them away after 8 minutes with uproarious laughter and cult-like tendencies. No, but seriously, we’ve met a lot of incredible hikers and trail angels out here so far. My favorite being a British family of 4, Ma, Pa, and a 10-year-old girl (Pippy) and an 8-year-old boy, (Captain Obvious). Camel gave them the family trail name of “Britt Family Robinson” and it stuck. They are the cutest thing going and I am trying really hard to ditch Mile 55 and enter into their family. It hasn’t been working.

Trail Magic at Mike's Place!

Trail Magic at Mike’s Place!

Not a drop of rain yet!

Not a drop of rain yet!

Free Beer at Carmen's!

Free Beer at Carmen’s!

 

No Sleep till Canada!

Team!

Team!

Day: 5 Cumulative Mileage: 77 Location: Granny’s Kitchen Coffee Shop: Julian, CA

WoooooWEE! Just hitched a ride into the town of Julian 13 miles from the trail. Not the easiest hitch, but found 2 great guys who wouldnt accept any money and gave a lot of well wishes. I’m here for the WORLD FAMOUS Julian apple pie! There is a pie place called Moms pies who gives thru-hikers a free slice of pie, so I was very committed on getting here. But first, this huge salad and iced almond milk latte…

The first 5 days of the trail could not have gone any better. We have done nothing but laugh and sing and mock each other. The first two days we crushed 20 miles, then followed up with two 15 mile days, then an easy 7 this morning before our first showers and laundry session of the summer. Maggie and I occupied shower stalls 1 and 3 and sang loudly as we guiltily took 30 minute showers in the desert. Remorseful, we are.

Little Spoon celebrates day 1

Little Spoon celebrates day 1

The theme thus far seems to be “No sleep till Canada”…none of us have been sleeping well, we are exhausting ourselves everyday but still can’t seem to get a good nights rest. This leaves us completely out of control in the morning. We collectively wake up yelling, grunting, and then aggressively stretching and flinging our limbs around. People may think sleep deprivation breaks you, but I think it brings out everyone’s true character. So many toe touches.

Going stoveless till the mountains, so basically, a different type of "mush" for dinners

Going stoveless till the mountains, so basically, a different type of “mush” for dinners

The weather has been great, hot during the day but once the sun goes down my fingers go numb and I throw on every layer I have. The craziest day was the 3rd day, when we hiked through 65 (I wish I was exaggerating) MPH winds on a ridge all day. We couldn’t find a place to camp with ANY coverage so we had to backtrack a mile to a huge drainage dip and set up our tents pretty much in the bushes for the littlest of protection. Jon and Dugan both said eff it and cowboy camped. No tents, no protection, no sleep. During all of this we sang the worst songs you could think of and hoped none of us flew away. Lots of shouting, and more toe touching. We were crazed, out of our minds, and downright maniacs. Since we had to hike the 55th mile 3 times (once in the dark), our team name will likely be “Mile 55”, but it is still on the voting board. This way, whenever we are called our team name, we will remember the most miserable day of the first week, and the strongest most self-destructing winds we’ve ever experienced. And laugh.

Mile 55, the second time.

Mile 55, the second time.

The desert has been amazingly beautiful. Lots of elevation gain and ridges. The views have been incredible and I definitely did not give it enough credit beforehand. We’ve met so many great people on and off the trail who are always more than willing to give you a hand with anything. We are all in good health, and no one has thrown Maggie off a cliff, yet.

Trail magic, cooler of free beer!

Trail magic, cooler of free beer!

The Camel from Corvallis searches for lost hikers

The Camel from Corvallis searches for lost hikers

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PCT 2016!

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Back at it! Last year I went on a 4 month trip abroad to Southeast Asia and New Zealand, and it was incredible. Last May I moved back to Jackson Hole and worked/played really hard for 11 months (personal employment record). In January I woke up and felt one of those callings people talk about all the time. My heart was being pulled towards the trail, I decided (rather on the spot) that I was going to attempt to thru-hike the PACIFIC CREST TRAIL. 2,650 + miles of grandeur. Holy shit. And it will be done startingggggggg…tomorrow (dawn, april 12th)

Wyoming!

Wyoming!

With the help of so many good friends, I was able to plan and research the trail in 2 months. Lots of logistical planning for the PCT, it’s much more remote than its east coast pal, the Appalachian Trail, so organizing 10-20 boxes of food/gear for a stable/settled/reliable family member (thanks dad!) or friend to mail out at different dates over 5 months is very common. I’m going as light as possible, but I of course still think I packed too much.

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The trail spans from Mexico to Canada, the first 700 miles is desert, then the Sierras (yippee!), then some NORCAL action. We will cross over into Oregon where we will be soaked for 3 weeks, and then the final push through Washington where the views and hunger will be unbelievable.

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Why? Well that’s easy, because I enjoy hiking. It’s the combination of my passion for physical endurance, the great outdoors, and the simple life. I also really love people, and hikers are always the most interesting, kindest, most generous people I meet.

THE CREW: no, I’m not alone, exhale! I am teamed up with 4 badass crazy humans who enjoy self-inflicted pain and mosquitoes as much as I do. The dream started 5 years ago when I met Maggie. We both volunteered for AmeriCorps on a trail crew in the Northwest. We maintained sections of the PCT and although vastly different, we became best buds (she’s an asshole, too).

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Her cat-loving New Hampshire obsessed husband Mark is also joining us (couple alert! Just kidding, guys), along with their best friend Jon (he’s got (had) a real job, like a career, but he quit it to hike the trail and that makes him a hero). Then we have Shaugn Dugan, a fellow friend from the Northwest trail crew days, and a complete victim to Maggie’s bullying (he’s skinny and kindaaaa has red hair, that’s all the ammo Maggie needs for years worth of jokes and puns). But he’s a badass, and mocks my NY accent and tendencies to what he feels is perfection. “GOOD MAWNIN’ JOOOLIEEE”, we also only speak and write to eachother in all caps, if anyone is seeking peace and solace on the trail, stay far, far away. It’s a funny little group, I’ll probably get sick of them after 3 days and bail, which will be longer than any of them expect me to stick around. Oh my gosh kidding! I’m so lucky to have them, it’s going to be all laughs and banter, okay, all banter, some laughs, mostly tears.

Ill be in touch as much as I feel appropriate, might be weekly, might be monthly, but life is all about sharing and I know how interested (concerned) people are about this adventure! I’ll do the most uploading on my Instagram @jtmcc272 but will try to blog when I find the time. Thanks for all your support to get me to this point, I’m off!

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“Pursue some path, however narrow or crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence” – Henry David Thoreau

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