One-Thousand.

Day: 90

Location: Cup of Cherries Coffee House, South Lake Tahoe

Mile: 1090

Showers Taken: 19

Avocado Count: 36

Note: this blog post is all over the place, I will be having less and less time in towns to post, so pictures will continue to be upside down and stories will continue to not make any sense. I appreciate your patience and understandings. Care about you.

Why can’t I sleep indoors? There’s no blood on the walls, I can spread my body out, I can control the climate, I can wipe with toilet paper, I don’t have to sleep on a smelly piece of rolled up clothing, I don’t lose feeling in my major muscle groups, I don’t have to sleep on rocks, and I don’t have to search for scary beady eyes when I get up to pee. You’d think I’d get to this bed and pass right out. I sure thought so too, but that hasn’t been the case this summer.

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What it comes down to is this: I replace writing in my journal with watching the Kardashians, I replace eating sprouted Mung Beans with eating pizza and ice cream, I replace the sound of a swiftly flowing creek with the sound of 18-wheelers, I replace staring at the stars to shoving my face in a suffocating (always too thick) pillow, I replace dinner-time jokes with again, the Kardashians. It’s no wonder. Why did it take me so long to hash this out? The luxuries of sleeping in a bed, indoors, and with a television will always reach for me, and will always be a treat. But damnit after 10 minutes in this bed I get restless and pathetically realize that even though I have no access to a TV, I’ve somehow already seen this episode of the Kardashians. Twice. And that POM is the most obnoxious sponsor of American Ninja Warrior.

The best ice cream in a carton. Fact.

The best ice cream in a carton. Fact.

Two things, we heard two things about this past section: The mosquitoes are at their worst, and it is the toughest physically. I brushed aside the mosquito part and got really amped up about how difficult it was going to be — after spending a week in Mammoth living like a member of American society, I needed to get my ass kicked, I WANTED to get my ass kicked. Fortunately, the trail kicked my ass. Unfortunately, the trail also bit my ass, several different times, by several different inhabitants. Whyyy I ouuuttttaaa. But seriously, who’s got the calamine lotion?!?

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Bugnet selfie after our first 30 mile day!

Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room here, the mosquitoes weren’t THAT bad, right? I mean I’m just laying here in a comfortable bed for the first time in 10 days and for the last time for much longer, and I can’t stop frantically itching my WHOLE body (have they no shame?). I’m using every body part as a scratching device but still thinking about how lucky we were that they weren’t, again, THAT bad. Why am I so full of it sometimes? Here I go about to put a positive spin on how the mosquitoes could have been WAY worse, while my skin crawls in agony (what are they injecting into my bloodstream?) This coming from a girl who spent the last part of her prayer cycle one night asking God why he created mosquitoes. As I drifted away during this particular prayer I decided that no, God, you do not believe in peace on earth, because you created mosquitoes. And that was probably my most monumental thought of the whole day. I then woke up to dozens of them attached to my tent screen waiting for me to reach for that zipper. Deserved that one. Little did they know that I purposely dehydrated myself the past few days so I wouldn’t have to pee at night OR until fully dressed in my flesh-covering attire in the morning, thus, never really having to leave my tent and subjecting myself to their ugly little bodies. Don’t worry, I don’t consider that a victory, but it does make me feel like I’m smarter than them, which I mean, I’ll take what I can give myself.

You know it's next level when even a smoky fire doesn't keep them away

You know it’s next level when even a smoky fire doesn’t keep them away

On the hiking side of things, this past section was breathtaking. We hiked into Yosemite and past its Northern boundary. We hiked over incredibly impressive rock work, more snow, past gorgeous alpine lakes, through muddy meadows, up and around and down sharp ridge lines, and through soft soiled forests. There was so much to see, so many smiles to erupt.

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The physically challenging part came with the extreme elevation gain/loss. We averaged between 3500-5000′ of gain each day, and usually with an equal amount of descent. Yep, you guessed it, straight UP, straight DOWN, one mile in the valley to stretch out the legs before another 1500′ straight UP, straight eh, you get it. Whenever we were blessed with flat terrain we kicked it up several notches to make up time. We were still in the Sierra but wanted to push our daily mileage, so we went kind of hard you can say.

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The last 3 days of the 9-day stretch were 25, 25, then a “what the hay” let’s end it with a bang, our first 30-miler! We had a group bet going early on who would hike the first 30-mile day. You should know ALL of our bets throughout the summer have been under the terms of Dairy Queen Blizzards. They are called “Blizzard Bets” and probably a new one gets betted on everyday between 2 of us. So many bets that we lost count because we have yet to see a DQ near the trail to cash in on. Now we just all owe each other a whole bunch-a-blizzards.

Blizzard betting support group

Blizzard betting support group

Point being, it was pretty special to reach the 30-mile milestone with Camel and Centerfold, in the Sierra, on the last day of the toughest section, in garbage shoes. Also, on the last day of us hiking together (they’ll catch me soon enough, but I’m leaving a day earlier than them from town). To be honest, I felt great, it was a feeling of euphoria for the last few miles as I swooped into camp right before 9pm. One of those banner days that won’t ever be forgotten.

Pushed these shoes 200 miles too long

Pushed these shoes 200 miles too long

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At this point in the trek, after a few days and reaching the 1,000 mile mark (woot woot!) I was with the boys, Centerfold and Camel. Spoon and Chuckles had to hitch into a town for a resupply, and the boys and I planned for a longer jaunt, and did the last 150 miles together. We are both best of friends and worst of enemies. Best of friends because we’ve been hiking together for so long that our connection and communication is almost at a point of effortlessness. We have each other dialed in, we are no longer surprised if someone says “I’ll be right back” and not see them till morning. We are 3 very independent creatures, who fortunately enough, make one heck of a team. I’m always the last to leave camp, except one particular morning last week when, to both our surprise, I walked past Centerfold with his tent still up. No “Good morning Toe Touch! How’d you sleep? How the feet feelin?” Nope, I got a look of astonishment and an “aw man I’m the last to leave? This sucks.” This made me laugh for the whole first mile of the day, Centerfold is the most organized and efficient member of Mile 55 (he’s the type of guy who actually uses the dresser drawers in motel rooms) and has NEVER been the last to leave camp in over 1,000 miles. Chuckles and I used to joke and say we should all leave incredibly early one morning just to mess with him.

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Welp, time for a snack!

Welp, time for a snack!

The boys and I would leap-frog eachother most of the days, taking breaks at different times, performing camp and hygiene chores in different streams and rivers. Every night one of them made a campfire to keep the mosquitoes away so we didn’t have to eat in the solitude of our tents. I’ll admit it, I played the “girl card” and tended to my feet and bug bites in my tent while they gathered logs and sticks for the fire. I would then magically appear once the fire was ablaze and THEN ask if I could help in any way. Admitting this doesn’t get me off the hook, but it’s not like they didn’t know what I was doing anyways. Again, we’re a great team! Hah (sorry guys).

Sleeping on a bed of rocks

Sleeping on a bed of rocks

We would hike our minimum mileage set for ourselves (22ish) and then add bonus miles until we found a campsite with a fire ring. We were each others worst enemies because we all have this thing where we don’t like to be outdone by other people, we are constantly striving for more. This similar trait in all of us came in handy as we all need to increase our mileage if we want to be home for Christmas. As Spoon and Centerfold would say in their daily satirical morning pump-ups “alright guys lets PUSH THE ENVELOPE TODAY.” Basically, we hiked into the late evening hours, laughed in misery about the mosquitoes, told each other how “pretty” we looked in our bug headnets, discussed our favorite climb of the day, threw out some jokes on Chuckles and Spoons behalf because remember, they weren’t there, and tallied up how many times we slipped and fell on our butts that day. Camel would then whip out the elevation profile for the the next day, tell us how flat it was going to be, then Centerfold would look at the map and label it in one quick word: “easy,” and then we’d hike up several mountains right outta the gates and repeat the same process. It was my favorite section thus far.

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Three days, THREE days in a row we received trail magic. I didn’t realize we would cross a  paved road once each day. Turns out, trail angels like to set up camp there and feed us! It was unbelievable, the last 3 days and the highest mileage ones, we hiked right into picnic tables of food in the middle of the day. Two days in a row I had a bowl of cereal, Chipmunk even had almond milk for it!

IPODS picnic table of trail magic at Sonora Pass!

IPODS picnic table of trail magic at Sonora Pass!

"I bought 149 bananas, if you want one, check the banana cooler" - Chipmunk

“I bought 149 bananas, if you want one, check the banana cooler” – Chipmunk

The pattern with trail magic food spreads (that I am really, really enjoying) is that it is all my favorite foods from growing up. Captain Crunch, packaged pastries, soda, Oreos, Nacho chips, American cheese, 4th of July mini cupcakes, and of course, DUPLEX COOKIES.

Most fulfilling of days, these people are so amazing

Most fulfilling of days, these people are so amazing

It’s amazing, comforting, and so familiar. As Chuckles pointed out in her recent blog post (which made us all cry, by the way) we have reached a point where homesickness is inevitable. The excitement of the start is long gone, the excitement for the Sierra is over, and the excitement for Canada is far too out of reach. We all miss our friends, families, and kitchens. You give up a lot of freedoms to be out here, and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything, so it is just another challenge to overcome. Letters, texts, and packages from friends and family help immensely. I can’t think of a better pick-me-up. In Tuolomne I received a “vintage” (still think it’s a top thrifty find but she’ll never confess) Moose, Wyoming tee from my coffee obsessed, happy houring roomie in Jackson. Halez has become my personal fashion designer for the trail, basically everything I wear she made, it’s pretty freakin awesome. I also got package of yummy foods (and Finding Dory) band-AIDS from my beautiful friend Maureen whom I met in Australia what? 8 years ago? Incredible friend, heart of gold and so incredibly thoughtful. (She made me say that if I want more Scooby Snacks).

Hangin' in Tuolomne!

Hangin’ in Tuolomne!

Friends that become family, I have felt this way about Chuckles (Maggie), Spoon (Mark), Centerfold (Jon) and Camel (Dugan) since April 12th. They’ve been my trail family, they are the 4 people I am so proud to tell people “no, you don’t get it, we STARTED together, we were friends before this, crazy right?” Well, today is the day we split. I left 3 notes along the trail last week for Chuckles and Spoon, the last one being a classic Toe Touch love letter, left under a rock at their trail exit point. I am afraid those are the 2 I won’t see until MAYBE Washington, and so that goodbye was really hard for me. They have been so incredible, and I’m so glad Chuckles has a blog so I can follow along more closely. I am so excited for them. I am also so very hopeful they will literally pop out of nowhere in the next 1,000 miles. I just don’t know what I’m gonna do at night without Chuckles obnoxious royal blue #downhat and without Spoon telling me how many hours of daylight we have left. Gosh, I’m gonna miss them.

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Camel and Centerfold will for sure catch me sooner than later, so after a few beers last night I said goodbye. Those guys have been my brothers out here, and I look forward to being their “carrot” as Camel would say (he’s still working on the proper metaphor, stay tuned) and to trip and have a smartass comment “walk much” come from Centerfold. For now, I’m off to “melt some miles.” I sent home 5lbs of winter gear yesterday. I sent it all home in my bear canister, I told my dad there was a note inside for him. I can’t wait to hear how bad he struggles trying to open it, I can hear Kyle laughing next to him as Bob gives up and chucks it at him. Ah, the little things, the little things.

No one better mess with my favorite sticker...HOT LAPS!

No one better mess with my favorite sticker…HOT LAPS!

Mile 55, I love you! Mission Creek: never forget*

ADIOS!

 

“You Know What Separates the Men From the Boys? Puttin’ On Wet Clothes Every Morning” — Soloing the Sierra

Day: 68

Location: Black Velvet Coffee Shop, Mammoth Lakes, CA (favorite place so far!)

Mile: 906.6

Avocado Count: 34

Showers Taken: 18

It’s all in your mindset. If you have the right attitude towards achieving a goal, you are going to achieve that goal. As I was hiking, I would stop and chat with other hikers. We discussed plans and landscape and strategy, and when it came up that I was not going into Bishop to resupply and take a day or 2 off to rest, I heard a lot of choice words and phrases. I had packed 12 days of food, and I was going straight to Mammoth by way of the most challenging terrain the PCT offers. And I was going alone. The most gratifying moments were when I’d tell someone this (whom I know has a rather lofty ego) and they would throw out a compliment and wish me well — because I could see their minds churning with doubt and maybe, just maybe, a tinge of envy. Funny thing is, I didn’t know how monster of a hitch it was until I was halfway through it, and even then it felt really, really attainable.

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I woke up every morning and performed a type of “self check-in,” if you will. I would ask myself if there was anywhere else I’d rather be. The answer was always no. I woke up excited everyday, even the day I forced on icy socks and slipped them into icy shoes and thought I’d never be warm again. Even then. Sure, a nice strapping young man brewing me hot coffee before sunrise would have been a nice addition, but we can’t win ’em all!

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On the 6th day of the Sierra, my friends went into Bishop to put their feet up and eat tons of food, and I continued on, scaled up Glen Pass and finally passed mile 800. Glen Pass wasn’t too bad, but the descent was the steepest of all, and not my favorite. It was terrifying. We were told not to do it super early because you don’t want to descend when it’s icy. The snow was soft when I went down, but then something really unfortunate happened.

Ascending Glen Pass

Ascending Glen Pass

At the top of the pass I was with about 10 other people, some old friends, some new faces. I’m not good at waiting around when there is hiking to be done, so I was the first to leave the summit party. I walked across the ridge to the steepest glissade butt track you’ll ever see. Basically, a snow slide. Opinions were varied at the top about if we should do it or not, looked kind of steep and downright suicidal. So here I go, first one to approach the start of the butt chute…I wasn’t planning on doing it, but it chose me to. Damnit I had no choice because I slipped and fell onto the slide. It was so smooth and slick there was no recovery method, I had to commit to the slide and try to slow myself down. I had micro-spikes on, but my ice ax was still in my backpack. I tried desperately to slow down but couldn’t, nothing was working. As I slid to my death (totally dramatic) I made one last effort and threw my poles, flipped onto my stomach, tied my hands together and gathered snow with my forearms. It worked, THANK GOD. The initial cheering turned to horror from the crowd looking on. Later in the day I apologized to everyone for almost dying and thus probably ruining their summer. They told me when I threw my poles they started getting super worried, and then 5 days later I saw friends from the Whitney Summit and they were like “we saw you glissade down Glen Pass, holy cow that was scary!” Haha, I put on a show, that’s for damn sure. Lots of bruises and scratches from the snow, but popped right up and continued the descent, I mean did I have another choice? Get me the heck off that mountain!

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The rest of the day was easy peezy. I gave myself a pass. I dried out all my stuff by Rae Lake and submerged myself in the icy cold waters. It was time for a bath. I made coffee and reorganized all my stuff. Hiked a few more miles and set myself up for a super early wake-up call to conquer the next mountain pass. Did about 15 miles that day and made a delicious farro&coconut milk soup for dinner.

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Day 7: Marathon day. It was either complete 2 Passes (most everyone does one pass per day) or do 2 consecutive low mileage days with one Pass each. I figured I’d continue to test myself and go for the gold. I started hiking at 4:30am and was the first person in the snowfields approaching Pinchot Pass.

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Luckily, my GPS was working at this point, but it turned out to be the last hour of THAT luxury for the rest of the week. I got all sorts of turned around, then luckily I saw 2 guys come out of nowhere walking on what was clearly the trail…EUREKA! I followed them the rest of the way up, and then bounced ahead of them. I got down after getting lost some more, and then started pushing the pace because I had 10 miles to cover before the next pass, and I wanted to be up and down that pass before the early afternoon’s soft snow. I crossed over many terrifying creeks and soon approached Mather Pass aka “The most fear-inducing pass in the Sierra.” You literally have to hike up super sharp snowy switchbacks with drop-offs that would make even the most courageous nauseous. Then you scale up either a snowy wall, or a section with nothing but loose rock, and pray that your foot holds steady. It’s exhausting, and the stress of the drop-off doesn’t exactly make things easier. As you can imagine, it was the biggest relief to get to the top. Two passes and 17 miles by 12:30…can you feel the fist pump that you know went down? Can ya feel it!

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The rest of the day was gorgeous, slightly breezy, warm, and along a golden trail with lakes and rivers and butterflies. Although my legs were in a lot of pain from dry skin. Between the post-holing in shorts, creek fords, and hot sun, they were so, so dry. Had to wear pants the rest of the week to cover them up. In the height of my leg misery I met a guy who asked me if I found his weed at the bottom of Glen Pass. Clearly, my pain did not compare to his loss, so I considered myself lucky to only have the most dried out skin in all the land. To think, I could have lost my WEED. (Disclaimer: I don’t smoke, heavy sarcasm).

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After 27 miles, and close to 15 hours of non-stop movement, I called it a day. Another 4am wake-up the next day in attempts to conquer Muir Pass. On the switchbacks before the snow I met an awesome lady named Cashmere, she is 53, a chemistry professor, and an ultra-runner. She started the PCT on May 6th and had yet to take a day off. She is crushing it.

We hiked most of the day together and was really nice to have someone to navigate the pass with. We got to the top and there was a beautiful stone hut constructed by the Sierra Club in 1930 in John Muirs memory. It gave me the chills. It was one of the best moments of the trip. John Muir is the most iconic outdoor figure, and has done so much to protect this area he called his home, the Sierra. If a hiker ever throws up a quote on social media, 9 times out of 10 it was said by John Muir. So yes, it was an extremely precious moment seeing that hut, and of course, hiking in the John Muir Wilderness ON the John Muir Trail. The guy is rightfully everywhere around these parts, I might have even started talking to him towards the end of each day when I’m at my looniest. May have.

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As you can see this is when a bit of weather started to loom. It was Friday, and a fellow hikers (Spreadsheet and Malt) had the weather forecast at the top. They told us low chance for snow on Saturday, but high chance on Sunday. Shoot, I thought it was always sunny in the Sierra Mountains? Right? Don’t they know I’m out here for almost 2 weeks and expect PERFECT weather everyday? Of course, I laughed and said welp, COME WHAT MAY! and it did, like Hell it did…

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Friday was another day probably close to 25 miles, pushed it again in the evening because I wanted to get close to the NEXT PASS. Despite my efforts, I believe I was still 10 miles from it, but I was tired and hungry and I had promised myself Mac n’ Cheese all day, so darnnit I was gonna have myself a FRIDAYYYY NIGHT! Talk about earning your cheese, I inhaled that goodness and slept like a baby.

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Saturday rolls around and the weather is iffy, clearly, the storm is gonna go down today, not tomorrow. I just pray it holds out until I’m off this next pass, Seldan. About 2 miles from the top, it begins to hail. Then rain. Then hail. Then snow. I wanted to push it, I really, really, didn’t want to call it quits for the day, it was only 11:30, but I’m also very aware of the dangers of being on top of mountain passes during storms. So, mom, dad — I listened to your voices in my head and made the “smart choice” and played it safe. I pushed it to the most exposed area (fine luck) and set up my tent while getting pelted with hail.

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Everything was soaked but my sleeping clothes so I put on my jammies to warm-up. I ate some cold-soaked oatmeal (was low on fuel, needed to save it for dinners only) and tried to nap. 30 minutes later I hear a voice..”hey you in the tent, got everything you need??” “Oh hey! Yeah I’m good, how is it out there?” “Not bad, it’s only RAIN.” He didn’t mean to sound condescending, but that’s how I HAD to take it if I wanted to ever leave my tent. I laughed and was like okay, there’s people going up there, so now you don’t have an excuse, go get it done. Packed up my soaking wet things, and got to the top in no time (was way closer than I thought). Took this photo and raced down before the next wave of the storm came barreling through.

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Met up with those guys at the bottom and hiked together through 2 really intense river fords (because we weren’t wet enough already) and then a few more miles. What helped me all week wearing wet shoes was, oddly enough, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon. You know their song “Tight Pants?” Well early in the desert when the ONE time we got our feet wet, Centrefold started singing that song, but replacing ‘Tight Pants’ with ‘Wet Shoes’…it was the funniest thing to me at the time, and so all week I would do a little dance (with similar hip movements) with my wet shoes and sing the whole song as I hiked along. It was probably the most effective mood booster of the week.

I started every morning staring at my wet shoes

I started every morning staring at my wet shoes

Anyhoo, we all camped separately that night, calling it quits at different times. I labeled that day a slap in the face from the PCT, I mean it never stopped. Every time you thought you could relax, the PCT would test your will once more with intense hail, more creek crossings, mosquitoes, or washing out the trail completely and leaving you lost and frustrated. I made dinner from my tent as the rain came down, grateful I kept all my sleeping clothes dry. It was a fitful night of rest, my lips continued to throb, the rain smacked my tent, the thunder roared and the lightening lit up the sky. It was terrifying. Around 5am I opened my eyes to my tent caving in on me, the rain turned to heavy, wet snow and my poor little tent couldn’t hold much more. So for the next hour I would sit up, smack my tent walls, lay down and contemplate never leaving the tent, sit up, smack my tent, lay back down and contemplate never leaving the tent etc. I was 2 days from Mammoth.

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There is a really hiker-friendly resort called Vermillion Valley that a lot of hikers resupply at. I wasn’t planning on doing the 8 mile detour to get there, but with the state I was in, it was the only safe choice. Everything was soaked, I knew it was going to snow all day, and the Pass I planned on doing is known for a very confusing descent because it’s always covered in snow. With my GPS on the fritz, and new snow covering the preexisting footprints, I would have been doomed. So I finally pumped myself up, ate as many calories I could to keep warm, and put on soaking wet clothes. All of it, all of it was wet and snowy. It was the most difficult 30 minutes of the PCT. I wish, I couldn’t feel a thing. Taking down my tent was a bear. I had no grip strength, no dexterity in my fingers, and was shaking so badly. I also had to poop, so that was just the icing on the cake. I got the tent down, rolled it up all water-logged and shoved it somewhere on the outside of my pack. I was a freak show, for sure.

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“I got my wet clothes, got my wet clothes, I got my wet clothes on!”

I felt really nauseous and knew I needed to hike fast. The hail kept coming down, the trail was a stream, and my feet were ice bricks. 6 hours later I got to VVR, ready to spend upwards of $200 dollar for any sort of indoor sleeping space. They gave me a free beer and told me I could camp for free out front. After one sip of the beer my whole life changed. I set up my tent in the mud and rain, put on a bunch of loaner clothes (I chose fleece pajama pants with snowflakes on them) bought 3 nectarines and a honeybun and wiped out the inside of my wet tent with towels they gave me. I could have showered or done laundry for 6 bucks a piece, but was feeling better and decided to save that goodness for Mammoth. I continued to rough it, and slept pretty cold that night. It was all good though, because I hung out with a lot of hikers at the small restaurant they had. It was a really great moment when a staff member came into the restaurant saying..”EXCUSE ME HIKERS, someone put their BLUE sleeping bag in the dryer and it lit on fire, I SAVED the sleeping bag but now my dryer is BROKEN…NO MORE SLEEPING BAGS IN THE DRYER.” I just sat there with a smile on my face, sipping on soup in my fleece snowflake pajamas wondering in what other restaurant on earth this could happen in. And in that moment, I loved my life to the fullest.

First time looking in the mirror, my lips were inflamed and blistered, and my eyes were completely bloodshot. Heyyyyaaa good-LOOKIN!!!

I took the ferry out the next day, I wanted to get out early so I could complete the final mountain pass before Mammoth, Silver Pass. I got up there at 4:30pm and got lost for 2 hours. There were dark clouds literally all around me, but not on me. I felt like I was walking in the spotlight. I prayed a ton to keep the light on me, because if the storm came in AND I was still lost, I’d probably loose my cool. It was evening, and I was tired. I needed to get off this mountain. I followed the boot pack, but it kept leading me to the edge of cliffs.  After a lot of extra exerted energy and strategics, I found the correct boot pack, and made it down. I got out of the snow and found an awesome campsite nestled in the trees. Ran out of fuel before my water could boil but I didn’t care, I ate cold soup that night. I would be in Mammoth tomorrow eating pizza, just 20 more miles.

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Finding a sign after being lost for 2 hours = equals me collapsing in the snow in complete relief

Finding a sign after being lost for 2 hours = me collapsing in the snow in complete relief

The hike into Mammoth was the hardest day of the hitch, my feet were screaming with every step and the trail kept going up 1,000′ and then down 1,000′ but the descents were covered in snow so you could never make up any time. It took forever. But you know what? I made it. With a half mile left I began to cry a bit. I did it. Holy cow, I hope I never forget the feeling of getting to the trailhead and seeing other humans and cars. I made it to Mammoth. I threw my clothes in the washer, ordered room service dominoes, hopped in the shower, and devoured a pizza and fake chicken bites while watching the trashiest most brainless television I could find (E-Network always delivers).

It was the most challenging 12 days I have ever had. My legs and body held up phenomenally, I was really, really proud of them. I kept my head on straight better than I would have if I had done this any earlier in my life, but towards the end I was so mentally drained from getting lost in snowfields and always, always, being wet, that I was ready to get off the trail for a break. I actually had a bit of food leftover which no hiker quite understands.

This was a fun snackie

Cute little snack

I have been in Mammoth for 5 days and really don’t want to look at my credit card statement. My friends took extra time off in Bishop so they are about 5-6 days behind, which is way farther back than I was hoping. I have made it this long, so I am hoping to see them today so we can hug and exchange battle stories from this crazy section of trail. Having such strong relationships on the trail is both a blessing and a curse. It’s so hard to sync schedules and please everyone. Lots of flexibility is required, and even more patience. But the enrichment your friendships bring to the experience is invaluable. They make the hard times easier and the miserable moments fun. I’m in a tough spot right now because I am the only one on a schedule, and don’t have too much time left for side-trips or many more lazy days off. Not sure how things are going to play out from here, but I trust it will all work out for the best.

I’ve just been eating and drinking all week, and have definitely gained back a majority of the 10lbs I lost. The last few days of the hitch I had to tuck all my layers into my pants to keep them up (I wish I had a picture, total nerd) it was quite annoying, but now they are snug and there will be none of that for awhile!

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I have no idea what is next, all I have heard is really intense and high river fords, mosquitoes, and more snow (but not nearly as much). The hardest part of the WHOLE trail seems to be over (the desert and the southern Sierra). It’s crazy to think about, but now I need to make up a lot of miles in NorCal and Oregon if I want to be done by my goal date. I got a sister getting married and I am NOT to miss it! Time to hit the trail runnin’

 

First Week of the Sierra — Best Buds & Whitney

Day: 67

Location: Black Velvet Coffee Shop, Mammoth Lakes, CA

Cumulative Miles: 906.6

Showers Taken: 17

Avocados Consumed: 34

First day of Sierra School Photo!

First day of Sierra School Photo!

The most talked about section of the Pacific Crest Trail: The Sierra Nevada. For 1.5 months you hear trail rumors of sky-high snow levels,
blistering cold temperatures, deadly river crossings, monster bear attacks,
and word of Big Foot himself. Trail rumors, they are a funny, funny thing. It didn’t take us long to ignore every.single.one. of them. The only way to know what is coming up next on the trail is to put your boots on and go see
for yourself. There is always a fear in the unknown, but how one handles
that fear is what makes up the character in each of us. What I am getting at here is this: the PCT tries hard to kill us everyday. It’s a love/hate relationship, I love the PCT,
the PCT hates me. Everyday something terrifying happens, and boy is it
toughening us up to no end. They say the trail changes you, you don’t quite notice while it’s happening, but it does change you. We are not even halfway done yet, but I can say with complete conviction, I am not the same person who started on April 12th. I’m way prettier

Without a doubt in my mind, the first 12 days in the Sierra were the most mentally and physically challenging of my life. Even though the toughest terrain on the PCT (I had no idea this was the case when I decided to do all 12 days straight) what was really tough was keeping my head on straight. Towards the end of the hitch I started getting frustrated more easily, and almost, ALMOST threw my poles in a hissy fit. Talking with other hikers, I was not alone in this, everyone was challenged in that regard. We all agreed it was the most amazing section, but boy were we tested in every way imaginable.

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It’s June 3rd, we begin our hike towards the mountains. The first couple days are spent climbing up to 11,000+ ft. and getting acclimated with the elevation. It’s hot, dry, and gorgeous. Lots of climbing, lots of phenomenal sunsets and prime campsites right where we needed them. Everything was picture perfect, we averaged 24 miles each day through the weekend. This is way more than most people do, but we were excited and hit the ground running. We all felt good with the high altitude, living in Wyoming for 3 years gave me a good base to work off of, and even the sea-level New Hampshire enthusiasts exceeded my expectations with their adaptation skills.

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New National Parks!

New National Parks!

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We also needed to hike that many miles because we planned to summit Mt. Whitney, a 17 mile round-trip hike off the PCT.  Can you say “DAYYYY TRIPPPPPP” woot woot! We were all so excited for Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, 14,508ft. I have never been above 14,000 feet, so a little nervous with how it was gonna go, but so excited to reach a new height.

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Spoon and Chuckles put their winter hiking experience into effect

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We all started at different times that morning, somewhere between 4-5AM. We felt really lucky again with the weather window, just a week earlier no thru-hiker (well, I’m sure the extremely badass ones did it) was able to summit Whitney because of the snow and ice. It melted a lot since then and we were golden. It was such a nice hike, few miles of an easy approach, then up an ice wall, then conquering a bunch of dry switchbacks with the occasional snowy ridge, then to the snow-covered ridge line that led to a scramble of boulders to the summit. I was feelin’ good, so I kept my momentum and went ahead. I was .8 from the summit, at 14,000 ft when I realized I didn’t want to summit alone. I hung out on a rock really hoping one of them would turn the corner before I got too cold. 20 minutes later Centrefold popped out of nowhere and off we went. He said Spoon and Chuckles were behind quite a bit, so as much as we wanted to summit all together, we decided to keep moving and wait at the top.

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Centrefold contemplating life at 14,000ft.

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Mountain buddy!

The views up top were incredible. I will say this, the top 2 moments of this achievement came from Jon and Maggie. Jon is an amazing athlete and hiker, but he’ll be the first to tell you he gets bad anxiety and panic attacks when it comes to heights/altitude/ridges, so he was a bit concerned with how he’d react when he got so high up. He crushed it. I don’t even think he knew how deep his doubts ran because as we reached the summit I saw the biggest smile radiate from him exclaiming “I never thought I’d do this!” It was such a cool moment to witness, climbing mountains has to be the most rewarding endeavor out there.

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I love this picture because if people thought we were couples, they'd have it allll wrong haha

I love this picture because if people thought we were couples, they’d have it allll wrong haha

Maggie has the toughest time with altitude. Being a chain-smoker throughout her youth, she deserves it.

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Hah kidding, I just wrote that because I know it’ll make her mad at me for a second and that makes me laugh. Maggie is a complete badass, she definitely struggles with high elevation, which makes summiting Whitney an unreal accomplishment. Way more impressive than any one else’s summit, in my opinion. I’m really annoying and had a great time going up, just making it obnoxiously obvious how much oxygen my muscles were getting, if this were Maggie’s blog she’d probably describe it like this “ohhh look at me look at me, such a tall blonde sprinting up this mountain! I’ve never done anything easier! No water, no food, who needs calories! The last time I had a sip of water was in ’97, I’m fine!” (that was me, making fun of me, Maggie, hope you enjoyed it.) ANYWAYS, Maggie and her iron-horse she calls a husband (most supportive and encouraging husband I’ve ever seen, it’s also really obnoxious how nice they are to eachother, tough to be around for sure.) make it to the top and a clearly exhausted Maggie exclaims “I really didn’t think I could do this.” She almost called it quits I imagine, several times. She didn’t though, she kept pushing it. That is way more badass to me than anything else that has happened so far on this hike. I was so proud of her, I wrote allll about it in my journal that night, totally taking away precious time I like to spend journaling about MYSELF…betch.

Final steps!

Final steps!

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We were the last people down the mountain, but it wasn’t too bad. The reason why you don’t want to hike in the snow too late in the day is because it softens up and you begin to post-hole (when you are walking on top of what you think is stable snow, and then your leg disappears). Post-holing sucks. It’s not only dangerous (sometimes you’re hiking over large fast-flowing creeks, or sharp rocks) but it’s also incredibly exhausting constantly pulling your lower half out of the snow. I got stuck once, and it wasn’t fun – it was funny, but not fun. It’s also the main reason people run out of food in the Sierra and have to adjust their plans. You need a lot of calories with all the climbs, cold temperatures, and because you use a lot of different muscle groups hiking in the snow. One guy told me there was a very low chance I’d make it to Mammoth with what lie ahead, that a lot of thru-hikers had to hitch into a town halfway through. After careful thought, I labeled him a fear-monger and kept my head up. I will make this food last, and I will get my butt out of my sleeping bag at 4am to avoid any unnecessary exertion of soft snow. I will hike on ice, and make it to Mammoth, damnit.

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The day after Whitney was the toughest day for me. We again started at different times and I found myself alone for most of the day. I got lost several times trying to navigate the endless snowfields leading up to a climb of Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT (13,200′). It’s really cute because the trail makes you start the day with a few miles of descent, so all the while you want to MAKE IT STOP, because you know you’ll need to make all this back up in a couple hours. It was a really sunny hot day on Forester, and the reflection of the sun was so bad that my lips blistered up, and are still severely blistered, 10 days later. I have to cut up my food and hope no spice hits my lips, it’s been dreadful, they keep me up at night throbbing. The bottom of my nose got burnt bad that day too, it’s peeling now, so that’s a positive!

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Finally, the day was done. It was our last night together for awhile, they were heading into town in the morning, and I was heading up another mountain pass, continuing my hike. We camped next to a lake and snow and then were surprised when we woke up freezing and soaking wet with condensation? Hah, worth it though, it was gorgeous. Before they left they gave me any extra food they had so I didn’t die. It was super nice of them, I know I was a bit crazy to take this on, but their support gave me such a huge boost going into the second week alone. I missed them before they left.

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"Hey guys is this how we stash our bear canisters??" #nailedit

“Hey guys is this how we stash our bear canisters??” #nailedit

The Desert Goes Up in Flames & The Kennedy Meadows Experience

Day: 66

Location: Mammoth Lakes Library, CA

Cumulative Miles: 906.6

Avocados Consumed: 33

Showers Taken: 16 (yikes)

Rewinddddddddddddd….

The last 50 miles of desert. 2.5 more days. The snowy Sierra await us at the end of this week. We ended a great Memorial Day Weekend with an American BBQ at the campground with the Brit Family Robinson. The kids (Captain Obvious and Pippy) challenged me to a game of horseshoes. I would like to say I kicked their little hiker butts, but that was not the case. They won. That’s all I’d like to say about THAT.

When two families merge!

When two families merge!

The Brits named all their water bottles after us, I got the Mt. Dew one! hah!

The Brits named all their water bottles after us, I got the Mt. Dew one! hah!

The following morning, Centerfold and I hitched the 38 miles back up to the trail at Walker Pass. Being a tough hitch, we did really well. A lady in a beat-up 1980’s Honda picked us up within 10 minutes. When we loaded her trunk with our packs and our bodies, I thought we were going to bottom out. Her 6-year-old daughter was in the back, so we became buds. We talked about life, played “Pet Rescue,” and she told me how beautiful I was. Automatic Best Friend. She drove us as far as she had time for, then dropped us on the side of the road. It was probably 90 degrees out, and we stood at this pull-out for about 20 minutes before someone else stopped to take us the final 10 miles. In that time, the owner of the land we were standing in front of came out with cold water and Gatorade. Such a nice guy, and within the next 5 minutes a professional mountain biker picked us up in his ‘suped-up’ extremely nice truck. He told us some crazy stories about how he got shot and lost a lung, which is why he had to retire so early. But it’s okay, because things happen for a reason and now he has a rad little kid who races bikes. He dropped us off and BAM we began climbing for the next 2.5 days. It was the last section of desert and it was brutally rewarding. I fell back in love with it. Super hot, dry, and mountainous.

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For our last night in the desert, I wanted to find a really sweet spot. I wanted to watch the sunset, make dinner, journal, and keep my rain-fly in its bag and stare at the desert stars until my eyes were forced shut. It took a few extra miles of hiking, but I finally found the perfect spot on a ridge. All goals accomplished (with an added surprise swig of whiskey from a group of hikers who stopped by) and I slept like a baby under the brightest, clearest, most beautifully calm sky. The perfect send-off.

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Chuckles, Spoon, and I hiked the last 10 miles into Kennedy Meadows together the next morning. I was definitely struggling a bit from dehydration, just couldn’t get my mind right. I fought it so hard because I knew how big of a milestone it is to walk into the iconic Kennedy Meadows (and how excited Chuckles and Spoon were, so I was trying realllyyyy hard not to be a debbie).  My spirits rocketed the second we touched the parking lot. Kennedy Meadows is a “town” of 200, basically it’s just a general store with a big deck hikers drink and eat burgers on. It’s the Gateway to the Sierra, so it’s filled with very excitable hikers, the energy being completely contagious. WELL, as new hikers arrive, the fellow hikers hangin’ on the deck start clapping for them! So we walked up to probably 30 hikers applauding us in. I couldn’t stop myself, I ate it up. I bet everyone who knows me well is NOT surprised by this. I started doing my toe-touch dance and yelling “ohhh stop it! just stop it! noooo YOU guys! it’s all YOU guys! awww shucks!” We got up to the deck and a few guys were like “holy sh*t! she’s got a f$#kin signature move man! that’s awesome!” I introduced myself as Toe Touch, said screw this dehydration thing, and we got beers and burgers and became part of the crowd clapping in other hikers. Such a silly, stupid, weird life. I love it.

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Good friends send cheap whiskey you can't possibly fit in a backpack

Good friends send cheap whiskey you can’t possibly fit in a back-pack

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We all had several packages waiting for us. Ice axes, micro-spikes, warmer clothes, tons of food, letters from friends etc. My favorite was a box of MRS. HACK cookie squares! Growing up she always made our soccer team cookie squares, and then continued to bake me them every time I was home from college. I’ve been in contact with them and knew they were coming, I was SO excited. They were as fresh as if she just took them out of the oven in NY. I ate a ton, packed up 8 (one for dessert every night, what a treat! except the last 4 days were sad), and then gave the rest to the Brit Family Robinson. Hysterically, Anya (the mom) took a bite and ran over to me on the other side of the deck, mouth full of cookie exclaiming “what IS this, it’s NOT a cookie, it’s NOT cake, what IS IT?!?” Smiling and equipped with a arm swing I yelled, “it’s a cookie square!” So proud of them, I was so proud of those cookie squares, as if we just bridged a huge cultural gap. The little things. So THANK YOU HACK family, for always being such a great support system for me, and for putting huge smiles on our faces.

We felt really, really lucky. As we sat on the deck that night, we watched a cloud of smoke fill the area we just hiked in from. There was a fire at a campground just a mile off the PCT, and it shut down the trail to Kennedy Meadows. The next day hikers were getting dropped off at Kennedy Meadows, and they didn’t get an applause. I felt really bad for them, they had to miss the last 50 miles of desert, and then get driven into Kennedy Meadows, nothing any hiker wants to happen. That also sealed it for us, we were getting out of there. We sat and drank whiskey, sang songs, made fun of each other, swigged wine with Beyonce, and watched the desert burn behind us. It was surreal, the desert literally went up in flames the day after we completed it. And in that moment, I found Jesus.

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After a very casual effort of organization and consolidation (aka putting all items into sandwich bags), I had managed to fit 12 days worth of food into my newly purchased bear canister (required for the next 400ish miles). The others only had to fit 6 days worth, which was even difficult for them. Good thing I have a healthy relationship with hunger (kidding), because as it seems, I eat half as much as they do. But if I didn’t, if I didn’t train my body to do A LOT on a little (to put it simply) then I wouldn’t be able to have been in the Sierra for 12 days straight, and give it all my focus and energy. We all make choices, and mine seem to be on the higher spectrum of masochism. I’m aware. And I’ve embraced it.

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My pack weighed around 35lbs with no water

So that was it, our final farewell to the desert, to Kennedy Meadows, and to hikers we were very uncertain we’d ever see again. After a cuppa tea with the Brits, and finally SHOVING everything into every area of our packs, we set out for the mountains. We hiked a huge 2 miles that night, ate snacks for dinner, and lay awake excited for the next chapter. The chapter that is most talked about. The chapter that would surely change us in the most beneficial ways. The chapter that would challenge even the most poised hiker. The chapter entitled, The Sierra Nevada. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN

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