Location: in my tent, overwhelmed with the fear a mountain lion is circling me
Avocado Count: 38
Shower Count: 20
Note: This is my first post written uncaffeinated, but with the mountain lion activity around here my adrenaline is pumping so I’ll probably still write with the same energy level.
Who told me it got easier after the Sierra? And why did I believe them?
The mileage has gone up, and just like us American women say in the real world — 30 is the new 20! The past couple weeks I’ve been aiming for 28-30 miles per day. They haven’t been easy. Long steep climbs, overgrown brush, fallen trees and poison oak (another peril of the trail that I have successfully ignored, for now). But no snow. Well, one cute little patch, but that was it. It’s amazing how many miles you can accomplish in a day when you can SEE and FEEL the trail!
I left South Lake Tahoe on a Thursday afternoon and caught a ride with a 2015 PCT thru-hiker that currently lives in town. It was a great ride back to the trail and he was the first person to tell me that NorCal is steep. I met him for 15 minutes and he’s already been more truthful than everyone else! Thanks again Clay! He dropped me off at Echo Lake where there is a little store. First thought that came to mind: Ice cream? It’s 5pm, I’m about to hike a lazy evening of garbage miles, I should have ice cream.
I saw a couple guys I knew getting dropped off at the same time, Siri and The Prodigy (no explanation needed, the guy can move). We hiked together that night for about 10 miles along Echo Lake and down past Aloha Lake. It was unbelievably gorgeous, and the sun setting just made life even more adorably perfect. The sugar rush wore off so I set up camp around 8:00 as the boys pushed on. All 3 of us oddly enough had packages in Truckee, and we needed to get there between 11-2 on Saturday if we wanted the Post Office doors to be open. We were in for what can only be labeled as a, wait, are you ready for it? You sure? “Big Day.”
As I got reorganized in my tent and cooked up some dinner, I looked at the mileage. I was off by over 10 miles. Truckee was farther than I thought. I should have started hiking earlier today instead of putzing around and eating ice cream, I should have hiked more miles. I set myself up for failure. Perfect. My attitude shifted quickly, what a challenge that lay before me! I woke up and did some quick math, I had 30 hours to hike 53 miles. After a good laugh at how miserable that sounded, I hit the ground running. The plan? Hike for as long as I can stand today, try to sleep at least 6 hours, and start hiking by 5am the next morning. Easy. Not.
The day started with a climb up Dicks Pass, getting lost in the snowy descent, and then making a wrong turn at a trail junction, thus adding 1.5 miles to my, remember? “Big Day.” That was rough, total mental fluster, I was so mad at myself. WHY AREN’T I BETTER AT THIS BY NOW. I should have been more focused, but I wasn’t and I needed to make up that time. Luckily, the next 10 miles were relatively flat, and flooded with mosquitoes. You wanna hike fast? Surround yourself with blood-sucking devils, you’ll pee your pants before you’d think to stop. The only time I stopped was because my stomach was growling for my avocado. I took a chance and stopped to eat it. Regret. I almost threw my avocado at the black swarm. I was so frustrated I couldn’t get 2 minutes to sit in peace. I’m ashamed to say, that was the last avocado I’ve eaten.
So the 4:00 hour hits and I get myself to a trailhead where I see Bear Claw (she packs out pastries from every town stop 👍👌) and Lemonade. I met these guys after the descent of Glen Pass back in the middle of June. We officially became friends when we hiked up Donohue Pass together before entering Yosemite. During our ascent of Donohue Pass we exchanged comparable sarcastic glances at one another as we listened to a group of JMT’ers (John Muir Trail hikers) tell us how dangerous Donohue Pass was and that they could NOT, with a CLEAR CONCIOIUS tell us to go over it at this point in the day (it was 3:30). They took it a step further and told us there was even SNOW on the OTHER side! Oh boy! We were so respectful, so polite, and totally told them we would discuss it and probably take their word for it and tackle the pass in the morning when the snow is harder. Once they were out of earshot we couldn’t stop ourselves, really? It was cute in a way, it was their first mountain pass, first experience in the snow, and clearly, they were overwhelmed by the whole experience. 3 hours later, we were up and down the thing happily trotting towards camp all in agreement that was the easiest pass of the Sierra. And that those poor JMT’ers are realllyyyyy in for it with what lay up ahead for them hah! Point being, Bear Claw, Lemonade and I are on the same page, so seeing them during this “Big Day” was really valuable. They are the coolest couple because they live in San Francisco and have big kid jobs but are taking a leave of absence to thru-hike the PCT. They are engaged and getting married THIS week in a small trail town. They invited me and you can bet your buttons my mind has been swirling and whirling with ideas on how to make that happen. And what on earth I would wear.
After seeing Bear Claw and Lemonade, I felt reenergized. They told me they knew I could do it and when I went to respond I sputtered out “yeah, yeah I can do this but…” I hesitated as I tried to fight off the negativity about to spill out, because the truth is I knew I COULD do it, hey, I believe in myself, how could I not at this point? So as I hesitated I looked at Lemonade who I knew would finish my thought for me, and right on cue he spilled…”but it’s gonna suck.” Spot.On. And suck, it did. I still felt reenergized by them and it was also nice because I hadn’t seen any other PCT’ers all day and I was beginning to think I made another wrong turn. I hiked 12 more miles that night. Up switchbacks and onto a ridge and across a ski resort? Yeah, definitely chairlifts popped out of nowhere, it was awesome. The ridge line was incredible, it was breezy, mosquito free, and the sunset was out of this world. As rushed as I felt, I took a break to sit down and take it all in. I stopped hiking at 10:00, set up my tent, cooked my dinner, patted myself on the back, and passed.out. I hiked 37 miles in 15 hours. I woke up at 5, almost collapsed on my first steps because my feet were so sore, and hiked the remaining 15 miles by noon.
It wasn’t easy. I was in a lot of pain. Towards the end of the 37 mile day my shin was in extreme pain. Sharp, sharp pains, mostly on the downhills and flat parts. The next morning, I could barely hike. It was an obvious limp, so obvious that I was honestly embarrassed, but I couldn’t walk right, it hurt too badly. In my mind, my left leg was broken, shattered to pieces I tell ya! Ship me home to New York! Someone activate their SPOT device, we need a helicopter! Stick a fork in her PCT, this Toe Touch is cooked!
Long saga short, I had type-Hell shin splints. For the next 200 miles, I would limp. For the next 200 miles I would plan my speech for why I couldn’t finish the PCT. For the next 200 miles I would feel my bones crumbling underneath my skin. For the next 200 miles I would be extremely dramatic. For the next 200 miles I inhaled turmeric, coconut oil, sardines, magnesium, and collagen. And for the next 200 miles I would be 100% McCloskey: not rest, up my mileage, quicken my pace, and tell myself to hike through it. Mission accomplished. If someone taught me how to sit still while growing up, maybe I would have handled this differently. But no one did, so I kept moving.
I made it to Truckee with an hour to spare. I got my new shoes! Did I mention I did that little adventure in garbage shoes? If not, I did that section in garbage shoes, feel bad for me feel bad for me! People are dying of hunger and I hiked a section with worn down shoes, good grief.
I celebrated my victory at the CoffeeBar and then hitched a ride back up to Donnor Pass. An on-call nurse picked me up and fed me sugar cubes (yes, like a horse) and we chatted and joked and listened to Howard Stern radio during the quiet moments. She ruled.
The following morning I hiked (well I TRIED to keep up with) a guy named John Z. He passed me and I took one look at his backpack and asked if he was a thru-hiker. He laughed and said yeah of course. I was like well sir, you’re backpack is smaller then the one I used in High School, do you sleep in a hammock or something? He laughed again at my ignorance, but in my defense, his backpack was TINY for a thru-hiker, and not an ITEM on the outside of it. He must not eat, sleep, or drink water. After limping after him to ask more questions we actually had a great conversation. But seriously guys, his backpack — I’m talking like maybe one U.S. history textbook, a 5-subject notebook, and of course, a planner. Turns out he’s really good at this, and hikes 50-60 mile days. I doubt he even pees.
The next few days were pretty solo, with little encounters here and there. The views were gorgeous and it was definitely one of my favorite sections of the whole trail. The wild flowers are in bloom and are everywhere!
I got into Sierra City around lunchtime and picked up my packages after lunch at the Red Moose Cafe (moose lore everywhere, I could of sat there all day). I was pretty beaten up by the last 90 miles and was really excited to open a package from my sister Laura and friend Jeannie. I also got 2 letters from my friend Erin and her mom Terry! Both filled with love and encouraging quotes on the inside and out. Receiving those gifts put my head back in the game, and my heart back in the hike. I saw Bear Claw and Lemonade on the porch and told them I’d catch them wherever they set up camp for the night. I hiked out shortly after them, but my leg hurt so bad I called it quits before I found them. The next couple of days I tried to catch them with no luck, they were consistently 2-3 miles ahead of me. I did however hike with a guy named CityTime (he’s known for his late departures in the morning). CityTime is a climber in Boulder and we hiked a lot of miles together over the next few days. We both decided that we love thru-hiking, but don’t see ourselves doing such a long one again, we miss our other hobbies — for him, rock climbing, for me, running & biking. And we both miss our friends back home, being able to call them up whenever, for whatever (ahem, happy hour). And we also agree on what the hardest part of hiking the PCT is: Taylor Swift not being on Spotify.
After nearly 80 miles or so I finally found Bear Claw and Lemonade! They were sprawled out on a ridge, next to a block a cheese, pretty flustered by last minute wedding logistics. They had service so were trying to do some major brunch problem solving. We caught up for awhile and then finished up our hike together into Belden. Belden is a resort type of thing. It’s not a town. It’s a campground with motel rooms and a restaurant. Belden is weird. What made Belden even weirder was that they were hosting a Burning Man Reunion. When I went to set up my tent a guy stopped me and asked me if I was going all the way to Canada, I said yes, and he gave a big WOOHOO RIGHT ON!!! Then he asked if I wanted a shot, and even though every alarm went off in my head, I said yes. He poured Jameson down my throat and when I dribbled a little he wiped my face with his hand. Belden is weird.
Bear Claw and Lemonade generously bought pitchers of beer and we cheers’ed to another section completed. I grabbed some more packages and went to my tent to see what I got! One package from my high school friend Kacie, fully equipped with delicious granola, Swedish fish, and this shirt….
And I got a package from my brother Chris and sister-in-law Kelly. They sent me all local food from their co-op, one of the most touching letters I’ve ever received, pictures of family, and my mom snuck in a new pair of underwear. I was a mess. My leg was still really bad at this point, going on over a week, and just more encouraging gifts from family and friends. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
We climbed out of Belden the next morning after spending the night tripping acid and jumping off rooftops. Okay fine, we went to bed super early and got coffee in the morning, nearly the same thing. It had to be the longest climb of the trail? I don’t know I guess, but it was 5,000′ right out of the gates, and a total of 7,000′ for the day. This climb, this 6-hour vertical hike, stretched out my calf so much that my leg began to heal. The next day was miraculous, definitely tender, but no limp. Oh thank goodness! Thank you PCT for punishing us so much!
I lost the other 3 guys during the climb and got to a campsite where a guy by the name of Stoic offered me an Oreo. Done deal, I’m stayin’. Turns out he’s from Syracuse! Really cool guy, he lives in Seattle teaching adult literacy, but for now, he hands out Oreos. Another hiker named Animal was camped there as well, I met him 2 weeks ago at Sonora Pass and noticed his shin all wrapped up. We exchanged complaints and turns out, we have the same injury. Just stemming from turning up the mileage too fast I suppose. Lots of hikers are either banged up, taking extended time off from the trail, or really working on finding a good mileage balance to avoid burnout. Everyone’s strategy is changing now that we are halfway through, groups are breaking up all over the place and even people calling it quits for good (Spoon had the best idea: he said since a lot of people quit during this section, he wishes it were like the Hunger Games and every night a cannon goes off and we see a picture in the sky of the hiker who just left the trail, gosh, if only!). Needless to say, it’s a very interesting time for the trail rumor circuit!
I woke up in the most peaceful state that morning. Stoic was up and walking by 5:30, a perfect time for me to start the process of opening one eye at a time and attempting to stretch out my body without pulling any muscles (always a scary time). This process can take a long time.
I got going around 6:30 and a mile later saw Bear Claw and Lemonade also in the process of opening their eyes. They were camped right next to the trail so I decided to start banging my trekking poles together and speaking louder than normal — it was time to get goin!! Halfway mark today! Beers in Chester! Just 24 miles until the highway! Get out of those bags! Hah, I think they wished they camped a mile before me instead of after.
After 16 miles I approached the Halfway marker, mile 1,325! Stoic offered me Bourbon in celebration and he, Animal, and I had lunch together on the side of the trail. Once they left Bear Claw, Lemonade, and City-Time marched in. We clapped them in, and did a high-five line. It was a really awesome group to have around for that milestone.
We coasted the final 8 miles to the highway where Bear Claw called trail angel “Pipers Mom” to possibly come give us a ride into town. I’m glad she did, because City-Time and I were trying to hitch a ride and were being straight up ignored by all the Saturday traffic. Pipers Mom is a trail angel in Chester and she keeps a cooler of sodas and fruits by the highway for hikers and offers her phone number for anyone coming into town. She showed up in a mini-van and was the sweetest, nicest lady. We all loved her so much. She dropped us at the local dive (the thirsty trout) so we could properly celebrate our halfway milestone. More beer for us! Thanks again Pipers Mom, we love you!
Chester was great. Small town with Burger joints and milkshake bars. We showered for hours (it’d been 10 days since I showered or did laundry and I was disgusting). This section was extremely dusty, so we were caked in more dirt than normal. We ate tons of food, drank tons of beer and coffee, and I headed out to the trail the next day. I’m trying not to take a rest day until Oregon. I won’t be upset if I do, I’d just like to get out of California, it’s been going on forever! I hitched a ride with a guy my age. He’s got the greatest laugh and we had a ball. When he dropped me
off I realized I didn’t get his name, he said his name was Joey. As I exited the car I sang, Joey and Julie! 2 Peas in a Pod! We laughed some more and I frolicked to the trail, hyped up on espresso and soft serve ice cream, hoping to get in at least 5 hours of hiking.
Had to say goodbye to Bear Claw and Lemonade in Chester, they are now putting all their focus on the wedding and pretending to be real people for a week or 2. I hope they catch up so we can hike and eat all the pastries in Washington together! But in all seriousness it was a blast being around them for the week, they are the type of people that become friends right away, friends that you know would do anything for you even though you haven’t known each other for that long. They’re the good ones, that’s for sure. Happy wedding week guys! The best part about their wedding is how they plan to spend the 5 days leading up to it at All-you-can-eat buffets. In no other world do the bride and groom gorge themselves before their wedding, just in this one.
So, halfway done with the hike huh? How do I feel? I’m not really sure. It took a long time to get here, the miles have been long and hard, and the trail towns and trail Angels abundant. I have had so much fun with everybody, and have learned so much about myself, my environment, and people in general. Everyday is a new challenge, a new adventure. I’ve caught myself daydreaming of Canada a lot the last week, I think part of me will always love the thought of the finish line, but I’m such a lover of the journey that I won’t get washed away in those thoughts just yet. There are so many more miles to go, so many more lessons to be learned, so many more people to impact and be impacted by, and so many more facts about trees that need to be learned. At happy hour Bear Claw said she was sad we are halfway through, that she’s gonna miss all of this. That put it in perspective for me, our time is so limited out here. 5 months, in the scheme of things, is just a blip in our lifetime. Even on the harshest of days I love it out here, there is always, always, something to shout for joy about. I am going to miss this trail – this life – so much when it’s over, and the only thing that will help with that emotion is remembering how much I appreciated each moment, how I constantly lived for the adventure, how I embraced the unexpected, how I disconnected and lived in the moment, and how, during all of the hard times, I found something to laugh about.