2,658 Miles 159 Days 36 Showers 57 Avocados
489,418′ Elevation Gain
“If you’ve done it right you’ll love where you are”
Note: I formatted the pictures to be upright on a desktop. This is a long post, if you have a desktop I recommend reading this on there. It won’t look so unkempt. Although, I’m sure no matter what you do they will still be upside down. Good grief. Care about you!
Want to know a secret? I have been jotting down notes for this blog post since July. Whenever I would get a deep emotional thought, I would type it in my notes really quickly. Looking back at all of my brainstorming I can’t help but laugh. I never stopped to type these things in my phone, so I remember tripping over rocks and roots just trying to secure this INCREDIBLE thought before it was forgotten. Nothing in there makes sense, but it brings back a wave of lovely memories.
I have been home in New York for a month. More specifically, Hopewell Junction, Home of the Honey Baked Ham! Jokes about this Honey Baked Ham got me through some dull times on the trail, so I couldn’t end this all without re-mentioning this self-appointed hometown lore.
My transition from on-trail to off-trail has been tough, but I saw it all coming. One of the reasons I was hesitant to attempt the PCT is because of the withdrawal I knew I would experience afterwards. I was nervous for the reintegration, the void, the shift in perspective, feeling different etc. When I was able to let go of that fear and convince myself that without a doubt, the journey would be worth all the difficulties encountered when I was back home, I was able to fully commit myself. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so excited about anything than in February and March when I was planning for the PCT. I talked about it all day long. It didn’t matter if people wanted to hear about it, or if I even knew the person for more than 25 seconds, I still filled them in on the latest. I remember hiding in the beer cage at work reading gear reviews on down jackets. “Oh, you want some more coffee sir? I’m sorry it’s going to have to wait, I am in the middle of finding the lightest and most cost-efficient umbrella that I will carry for 5 months but won’t use until the very last day of my hike.” Life was so good those last 2 months in Jackson, so good. My energy and enthusiasm about the hike were the telling indicators that I was doing exactly what I was suppose to be doing. I have never followed my heart so surely.
Physically, my body has fired back with a lot of rebellion this past month. After 5+ months of feeding it truck load after truck load of endorphins, I suddenly stopped. I became an adrenaline junkie this summer, and it was all too real. I was never tired during the day when I would be out hiking. Between the movement, the challenge, the air quality, the pure water, the ridges, the views, the fords, the snow, the trees, the animals, the community — I was riding a high that was unsustainable, and I knew it.
Day 2 post-trail I began to eat healthy. Basically, once my sister flew back to San Francisco and stopped feeding me donuts, bagels, and fish and chips. I thought I had it all figured out, I would detox! I would clean my body of all the processed instant junk I’ve been feeding it all summer, I’ll feel GREAT! Well, the last 2 nights in Vancouver I stayed with Richard and Jean, remember them from Crater Lake? I always knew there was a reason a wildfire erupted and caused me to hitch a ride around the rim. Meeting them was that reason. They welcomed me into their home, cooked amazing dinners and told me all about life in Vancouver. They are heroes.
I remember the last night with them I actually said the words, “I’m sorry guys, but I’m feeling pretty tired, this is weird.” It was around 8:00 and it was a tired I hadn’t experienced in a really long time, it was a normal sort of tired. You know, the tired you feel after work. It was that moment when things started going south for me.
I flew home the next day and began my sleeping expedition. My dad picked me up at La Guardia and with the amount of traffic and apparent “idiots,” as my dad calls them, it was a rude realization that I was back in New York. I felt sick from all the beeping and lights and stop and go traffic. Bless his heart for having to do that ALL the time, with his 3 daughters living on the West Coast, Bob is the family chauffeur and we all could not be more grateful for him. I got home and my mom gave me the biggest hug she has ever given me. She actually held on to it for as long as possible. I suppose she was a bit worried this summer. I inhaled the lasagna she made, devoured some ice cream with peanut butter and began my hibernation.
Sleep. It’s all my body wanted. It was time to heal and repair, and that was only going to happen if I was asleep. It was unreal. Easily 12 hours a night, sometimes 14-15. I sleep like a needle, surrounded by 5 huge pillows I want nothing to do with and only use one ratty old one, thinner than a crepe. Comfortable, I am so unbelievably comfortable. During the day I would be in a fog, just wanting to sleep more. I began to exercise right away, working on my strength and going out for little shake-out runs. I felt pretty miserable. I continued to eat healthy until healthy food became nauseating. I no longer wanted it, couldn’t stand the sight or thought of it. No more eggs, broccoli, bananas, avocados, no more. If I DID have an appetite, it would be for clif bars and frozen pizza. Instant noodles perhaps? I had a terrible headache all day long, would throw up if I ate the wrong thing, and not to be outdone by everything else going wrong, I had the shits.
I now realize my mistake. I dove into it all too fast. Too clean, too fast. I should have slowly reintegrated those foods into my diet throughout the course of a month. Here I am thinking I am doing myself the biggest favor, honoring my body and trying to level out the nutrient playing field, but instead I shocked it, and it rebelled big time. What I should of done was cook up some fresh veggies and put them in the middle of 2 clif bars. A sandwich. Balance.
2 weeks later I finally started feeling better, and also finally started to break some bad trail habits. No more candy in bed, toe touch. Yes, it is undesirable, but also completely unnecessary. I am currently doing a lot of strength work and doing little cardio. When I do do cardio, it is speed work. I’ll be out for a casual run and start sprinting, or I’ll find a hill and start doing repeats. I am tapping back into an energy system that I had completely neglected for 6 months. It feels really good.
The mental side of reintegration is the harder one to cope with. The physical stuff left me fascinated. I love listening to my body and monitoring how every little thing makes me feel. I had never felt that way before so it was all new and exciting, even though I felt like garbage. The mental side of things began 2 weeks after the trail. I began to feel “the void,” and longed for the trail life. I was very unmotivated, very low energy, very distant. This is not the person I want to be, and not the person my parents deserve to live with. I was a bum. I hated it.
I fought and fought the internal battles trying to break the cycle and snap out of it. Perspective always, always helps. I thought about how lucky I am to have a house and parents that welcomed me back in. I thought about how many people are in debt after the trail and couch surf until they find a job. I thought about my friends who went back to SF and back to the corporate world, a completely different reentry than mine, but our transitional difficulties both the same. And of course, I think about how many people don’t have a home at all, are starving, and wake up to a shower of bombs everyday. Yes, I usually always go there. Perspective. Gratitude. Toe Touch.
Now that this roller-coaster ride seems to be on its last couple of turns, I am feeling much better. I am a much more relaxed person when it comes to most things. I actually enjoy getting stuck behind school busses because I love the enthusiasm the kids have when they run off the bus, I have a lot more patience for things I cannot control, I treat my body with a much higher level of grace, I am the slowest driver in the world, I smile and say hello to everyone (particularly people who are wearing their bad day on their face) and I definitely don’t have the “it’s the end of the world” mentality. I have been through far too much to complain about anything material now. Life is difficult without that direct purpose we were so used to out on the trail. You wake up and know exactly what you had (wanted) to do, and you made progress towards your goals everyday. That is a really significant feeling to lose hold of and to suddenly replace it with empty days. You fall in love with no one particular thing out there, you fall in love with everything. Then one day, it’s all gone. That’s where the void can eat you alive if you let it.
What helped me through this past month was movement, catching up with friends, and staying focused on my goals. It was tough coming back home after the PCT and starting from scratch. If I had returned to my pre-trail life in Jackson, I know it would have been a much easier transition. But I also would have been sucked back into the beautiful Peter Pan vortex of Jackson Hole and probably would have kept pushing everything back a season, a year, a few years. Boy do I miss that town.
A popular question I get asked is how I dealt with the boredom. This is also one of the main reasons I thought I could never thru-hike, I pictured myself quitting because of the long days, and even longer weeks. Turns out, rhythm played an important role. I had my system, my routine, and after the first day back on trail, I gained my momentum and was able to enjoy it all. Oregon and Washington were the hardest for me. Oregon because there’s not much climbing and not much to look at, and Washington only because I was 4 months in and even though it was challenging and rewarding, I wanted nothing more to do with myself. I could have thrown my mind off a cliff and not cared too much.
Other than singing songs in my head (scroll down to read the list of “most songs sung in toe touches tiny little brain”), I would think about what I could do for other people. Before I went off-trail for Lauras bachelorette party in Montana, Kelly told me I was in charge of cooking one brunch. Literally, for 300 miles, I would allow myself to brainstorm the brunch for 2 hours each day. That was fun for me. I ended up scrambling eggs, slicing avocados, and making a cinnamon roll french toast casserole, if you were wondering. But the most helpful tactic I used was devising plans to surprise my friends with weird stuff along the trail. It all started when I sent Spoon a Screech shirt to Kennedy Meadows. He was so confused and had no idea where it came from. First he credited his dad, then his best friend from back home. It wasn’t suppose to be a surprise, but he was so happy about it that I decided to let his mind wander — essentially doing him a big favor, now he could think about who sent him this shirt for the next couple hundreds miles – how thoughtful of me!
After that experience, I sent Centerfold a Straight Outta Cactus Cooler shirt to Yosemite. It was sleeveless and over-sized of course, and the content completely making fun of his addiction to the soda. After that I had gone ahead of my friends, but decided to keep it up. I hit Chuckles next, with a shirt that was sure to blow my cover, but I loved it so much I sent it to her anyways. It was maroon, 100% heavy cotton and read, “Every Brunette Needs a Blonde Best Friend.” If you haven’t picked up on our abnormal friendship yet, Chuckles gives me a lot of grief for being a tall blonde. One Halloween I was Daphne and she was Velma (also of note, her husband Spoon was Rosie the Riveter that year). I had to capitalize on this shirt opportunity.
Lastly I made Camel a shirt. As much time as I spent googling “T-shirts with pipe gates on them,” my search results came up empty. Camel has an obsession with pipe gates, which in turn became a Mile 55 obsession with pipe gates. We walked through so many in the desert that at night we would replay the squeakiest ones for all of the world to hear. As we hiked we would play the game “What does the pipe gate say?!?” “EEEEEeeeeEEEEeEeeEEEEeEEEeE.” It was a game meant to wake you back up. Worked every time. So, I made a shirt for Camel with a picture of a pipe gate that we walked through at Mile 555.55, I kid you not. Go hike the PCT and tell me there is NOT a pipe gate at that mile. I dare you. Funny part is, they are all just realizing now that I was the secret sender. Whatta buncha ding dongs huh!
I also had 2 friends get married on the trail and they ended up a couple weeks behind me, so I would think about how I could surprise them with gift cards at the town bakeries, or hidden messages of congratulations in trees. Point being, if you are ever having a hard time, do something for someone else. Get out of your own head, and do something funny or thoughtful for a friend or stranger. If it works while hiking hundreds of miles in an underwhelming green tunnel, it can work to brighten up a morning or 2.
Sometimes I wonder how I hiked the whole thing. I mean I had little to no experience with any of my gear. I had 2 straps on my backpack that swung around loosely all summer. It wasn’t until Washington when I realized they probably are there for a purpose. There are also strings all over my rain fly to my tent that I have no idea what they are for. Again, I just let them hang out. You can’t control a lot of what happens out there, but you do get to choose your attitude to it all. You get to choose how to react in the hard times, and how much enthusiasm you are going to greet each day with. One big fear of mine going into this trail was if I would start to feel like I was wasting my time. I love helping others, and I was scared I would get to a point where I would feel selfish, where I would start to feel like I wasn’t making a difference anywhere.
My biggest takeaway from this journey has been how untrue that really was. I have never felt more looked upon, more important in my whole life, and I owe that all to my friends and family. Through my photos and this blog, I actually became more connected with people than I ever thought I could be. This trail has enriched all of my friendships from back home, and I have never felt closer to all of them. I received so many packages and letters of love, encouragement and support, some of which came from people I haven’t seen in years. My friend Danika, who was my roommate in Australia for a semester, wrote and recorded a song for me. Naturally, I listened to it before bed one night in Washington and cried myself to sleep in thankfulness. It’s the off-trail beauty that I love to think about the most. How many connections I made while hitch-hiking, while sitting next to a Marty at the breakfast counter, while running through the grocery stores loading up on energy bars and avocados. The trail town community, the on-trail community, and the off-trail community have all surpassed my predictions wildly. I couldn’t have asked for a better batch of relationships, both new and reclaimed. My life has been enriched because of all of you. All of you weirdos, I should say. God I’m so lucky. (only a few pictured).
“Soooo, how WAS it?!?!” — the most frequently asked question. I get it, I would ask the same thing initially. Some people dive deeper into it, others let you give a quick answer and then change subjects so fast you forgot you just got back from the journey of a lifetime. I guess my answer has been “amazing, incredible, phenomenal, the BEST thing I have ever done with my time.” I don’t expect people to get it. No one will understand it unless they have done it themselves, and that’s more than okay. I don’t understand a lot of what other people do, so I would never expect someone to geek out on this adventure as much as I do.
But seriously, how do you explain the landscape of the desert? Hiking 700 miles in an environment brand new to you? Adjusting your body to the weight of a pack with 5 days of food and 7 liters of water in it? Being completely water-insecure and always praying the next source isn’t dried up? How do you explain drinking green horse water or scraping at stagnant shallow puddles trying to avoid the bugs and then sitting in the extreme heat filtering it one half liter at a time? Going to bed every night hopeful nothing is poking a hole in your gear, and hoping not to step on a rattlesnake when you get up to pee for the 5th time? How do you explain walking through underpasses, over highways, losing footing up the sandy, windy climbs, and trying effortlessly not to let the wind turbines drive you crazy? Always dehydrated, always avoiding lizards, always in awe of how much better this is than what you expected. Always caught off-guard by the harsh unrelenting beauty of the desert.
How do you explain the tenacity required for the Sierra? Waking up at 4am, putting on every layer you own, navigating your way across, up and down miles and miles worth of snowfields? Climbing straight up icy walls because that’s where the boot-pack leads, and without the boot-pack, you’d still be lost out there. How do you explain reaching the top of a mountain and knowing that one false step, or one act of bad luck will send you tumbling down towards the ice covered lake at the bottom? Fording rivers so intense that it is a miracle you got across it, but leaves you sick with worry about your friends who are a couple days behind you. How do you explain the temperature fluctuations your body has to adapt to by freezing your butt off every morning and every night, but are left to hiking in shorts and a t-shirt during the day? How do you explain constantly taking inventory of your food in your head, scared to death you didn’t bring enough, constantly rationing everything you have, scared to death you’d let yourself down with the challenge you created? What about the feeling of looking across an expansive landscape topped with snow-capped mountains, turquoise frozen lakes, and not a soul in sight? The feeling of being so small, so simple, but so inspired at the same time. The Sierra: completely untouched, not over-hyped, the most beautiful stretch of land I know I will ever experience. How do you go about explaining it?
How do you explain Northern California? The mosquitoes who suck you dry? The wonderous rockwork in Yosemite, the sparkling lakes of Tahoe? How do you explain the last 500 miles before Oregon? Steep, dry, dusty, difficult. How do you explain the mountain lions, the bears, the snakes, the hilariously dumb deer? How do you explain the doubt associated with this section? The high drop-out rate? Constantly wondering what you’re still doing out here? How about the feelings of being self-absorbed, not helpful, and second guessing your investment in yourself? Increasing your daily mileage, hours spent hiking, taking less time off, putting your body through complete turmoil, the shin splints, hiking 30 miles, going to sleep and then waking up and hiking 31 miles. How do you explain that?
How do you explain the relief of Oregon? Finally entering a new state after 1,689 miles. Entering a new state warned with blow-downs, ferocious mosquitoes, flat land, sandy forests, burn zones, but marvelous trail-side lakes, fresh berries, and an incredible community. But how do you explain the boredom? The foot pain? The hiker hobble? The lava fields? The relentless pursuit of Mt. Hood? Timberline Lodge? The breakfast buffet? The whiskey bar? How do you explain being completely reliant on every town and lodge stop because hiking just isn’t fun right now, how do you explain that? How do you keep going?
How do you explain the glory of Washington. Starting at the lowest point on the entire trail and literally climbing into a state of huge ups and downs. How do you explain the daily elevation gain? The miracle of the Goat Rocks? The quiet of the old-growth forests? The community of Trout Lake? The excitement of seeing the red roof of the Snoqualmie Pancake House for a full mile before you get there? The relief of a roof after 5 wet days in the wilderness? The love of a hot cup of coffee? The comfort of hiker friends, both old and new? How do you explain the feeling of both wanting it to be over and never, ever, wanting it to end? How do you explain the emotion the rain brings, the cold brings, the snow brings. The emotion the changing of the leaves provides, the crisp change in the air, the realization you have hiked into your third season. The realization that you are almost in Canada and absolutely nothing is going to stop you from getting there. How do you explain that will? That determination? That fulfillment?
How do you explain crossing the border and walking into Canada. You can’t explain it unless you try and explain how you got there. So I guess you just pick a rainy day, brew some coffee, and type away at a computer screen. You just might be able to explain it better than you ever thought. And if you’re really lucky, you have people in your life who are still listening.
I just hiked from Mexico to Canada. In my mind, that is the coolest thing in the world.
A huge thank you to everyone who followed along, stayed curious, listened, asked, and made me feel really special. My goal in life is to inspire others to try new things, jump out of their comfort zone, travel, adventure, and to overall, be good people. I have gained so much inspiration from all of our relationships, and I only hope I was able to give a little bit of that back to you.
As a cashier in Oregon told me in mid-August…
“Wow, your parents must be really proud of you. But more importantly, I hope you are really proud of yourself.”
Toe Touch: OUT!
You have to be able to master your own mind, but when you can’t, you let songs play over…and over…and over…here are the top songs that just didn’t seem to GO AWAY all summer.
In no particular order of frequency…
- Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi) – NorCal
- Don’t Look Down (Martin Garrix) – Sierra
- World on Fire (Kenny Chesney) – Washington
- Closer (Chainsmokers) – Washington
- Centerfold (J. Geils Band) – Desert
- Are We Out of the Woods (T-Swift) – All the time
- Need the Sun to Break (James Bay) – Every Morning
- It Don’t Hurt Like it Used To (Billy Currington) – Washington
- I Would Walk 500 Miles (Kenny And The Scots) – Every 100 miles
- Umbrella (Rihanna) – Washington
- May We All (Florida Georgia Line) – Oregon
- This Too Shall Pass (Mangas Colorado) – All the time
- 80’s Mercedes (Maren Morris) – Oregon
- Love On Top (Beyonce) – All the time
- Have you Ever Seen the Rain (Creedence Clearwater) – Washington
- Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater) – Desert
- One Grain of Sand (Ron Pope) – Washington
- Independent Women (Destiny Child) – NorCal
- Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) – All the time
- Spirits (The Strumbellas) – All the time
- Get Out While You Can (James Bay) – Last day of every section
- Lollipop (The Chordettes) – Desert
- Skeletons (W. Darling) – Sierra
- America’s Sweetheart (Elle King) – Always when I was covered in dirt
- Talkin’ Bout a Revolution (Tracy Chapman) – All the time
- Morning Comes (Delta Rae) – All the time
- Rescue (Rayvon Owen) – Oregon