Enter:Canada

Mile: 2,658

Day: 160

Location: Ella’s Bellas Bakery, Beacon, NY

Avocados: 57

Showers: 36

I completed the trail on September 18th, and as of then those are the final numbers. Since then I’ve showered everyday. I don’t love it, but I feel as though it’s something I should do.

This is my nephew William. He showers more than I do.

This is my nephew William. He showers more than I do.

Before I go into a concluding post about my experience on the PCT, you should know how it ended. Because it ended in style. A very bad and miserable style, but as I found out, not all style is shimmery and glamorous.

image

I last left off in Stehekin, remember the bakery I mentioned 19 times? I loved that place. Anyways, I was off to take on the last 89 miles: 4 days, 3 nights till Canada.

The forecast told us Thursday/Friday would be gorgeous, then the weather is turning ON and probably staying on until next June, good luck, hikers. Welcome to winter.

image

I had an incredible breakfast and hopped on the bus with Polaris to the trailhead. We hiked together that morning talking about it all. The end is near, how do we feel? How do we explain this? Will we do another thru-hike? Does he use tons of commas in his blog posts as well? Maybe I can get his thoughts on the proper use of a casual semi-colon.

"Hey Polaris the colors are really pretty so I just took a creepy picture of you from behind, you don't mind do you?"

“Hey Polaris the colors are really pretty so I just took a creepy picture of you from behind, you don’t mind do you?”

It was a great morning, we’ve only met once but you’d think we’ve been friends for a lifetime. It happens often, hikers instantly clicking with each other and never looking back. Slinging jokes left and right, completely at ease with one another. They say those who endure a lot of suffering together form incredibly strong and unique bonds. This, I would have to say, is very true. (Too many commas? Polaris?)

It was a beautiful autumn day and the colors were out and about. It was a weird, dry, desert-like feel for several miles, so many little critters scurrying in the dry brush as you walked by — very reminiscint of Southern California. I thought back to those desert lizards running all over the place, and remembered the day I saw that dreaded “Mojave Brown Bear.” Remember that tale? I made it up.

image

Kidding! Boy that would have been good though. BUT there is a reason to this, not a good reason, but something I feel like sharing with everyone. I am also about to tell this story because when Maggie (Chuckles) gets around to reading this she’ll want to throw up again, and that makes me laugh.

image

WELL, back in May, after telling Chuckles and Spoon about my terrifying bear encounter, Chuckles thought to tell me her terrifying wildlife encounter of the day in efforts to make me feel better. She started to tell the story and then stopped, almost ralphing in her mouth. She couldn’t finish the story so Spoon excitedly finished it for her. As I was eye to eye with the “Mojave Brown Bear,” Chuckles’ eyes were 4 miles behind me, staring at the ground, at one medium sized lizard swallowing a smaller lizard. The lizard being eaten was still alive and healthy. It’s awful. It’s gross. It worked. I’m glad I went toe to toe with my “Mojave Brown Bear” instead of seeing an act of such malice. Point being, I was never fond of those lizards. I mean could you imagine walking down the street and seeing a human swallowing another live human? OH THE HUMANITY!

So where am I? The desert? Oh, no, the Northern Cascades. Close, jules. Hey I’m allowed to ramble, it’s my second to last blog post, this is going to come nowhere CLOSE to making sense.

Here's a picture of an apple cider donut in a sandwich bag to further confuse you

Here’s a picture of an apple cider donut in a sandwich bag to further confuse you

About 20 miles into the day I reached Rainy Pass and saw two old hiker friends! Proton (he’s always positive) and Dream-Catcher! I met them in Trout Lake and we got lunch at the cafe. It was here when Laura told me she booked her flight to Vancouver, and here where I started to slow down my hike. Proton and DC got back to the trail after lunch and I never saw them again. UNTIL NOW!

image

They finished the trail just the morning before this! They found a way to Seattle, picked up Protons car, hit the grocery store, and drove to Rainy Pass for the day to provide trail magic for us. It was incredible. One day after their thru-hike and they began to give back. After receiving so much love and support from trail angels this summer, it was so cool to see hiker friends immediately dishing it back out. I’ve yet to meet one unappreciative hiker, I’m actually not sure if they exist.

image

A few more miles up the trail I set up camp at the aptly named, wait for it….”Trail Camp.” Looking at the map I thought hey, this sounds good! But before getting there I hiked over TWO post-it warnings from “The Germans” about aggressive hornets in the area. I couldn’t believe someone who undoubtably got attacked by these things had the courage to run back and place warning post-its for the rest of us. Heroes.

imageimage

It was a lovely night at “Trail Camp.” It provided everything I needed, access to the trail AND a place to camp. It got chilly at night but I knew I was in for a sunny day, always helpful. I slept in, left trail camp around 8:45. Really chilly in the morning, couldn’t WAIT to get over the ridge and into the sun.

image

At the top of Cutthroat Pass, my jaw dropped with the beautiful vista that came before me. It was unbelievable. Then I heard some music, and the rustling of potato chip bags, lots of them. Then I saw a guy who could easily be mistaken for Forrest Gump. He had great energy, even though he had just woken up from a rough night on the rocks. He said his name was “Chips” and in order to really EARN his trail name, he hitched into town and bought 15 bags of Kettle Chips, and a bottle of Champagne. This was ALL he had for fuel for the last 70 miles of the trail. He literally just ate an entire bag of NY Cheddar for breakfast. He immediately became my hero, and gave me such a good boost of energy. I love these people.

imageimage

The rest of the day was sunny and gorgeous. Ridges, forests, climbs, more ridges. It was on this day, Friday, that we had our last major climb. Of course I had no idea, but at the top of the switchbacks Polaris stopped and looked at me. He was pretty emotional telling me that was the last climb of the trail. He said something I’ll never forgot…”How are we ever going to make sense of all of this? How do we explain this? Month, after month, after month. We’ve been doing this for MONTHS.” True. These climbs have been going on for months. They’ve become part of our daily lives, they’ve become routine. Climbs we’d lose sleep over in SoCal we were now conquering, at altitude, without breaking a sweat. How do we explain this? How have we done this?

imageimageimageimage

After another really enriching conversation with Polaris, he hiked on to let me have a moment up top to soak it all in. I thought mostly of the Sierra. Mountain Pass after Mountain Pass after Mountain Pass. So much snow, so much technicality. So much experience. Could I do it again? Would I WANT to? I don’t have an answer for that yet. But what I do know is how I felt in THAT moment. I felt lighter, I felt freer, I felt like a complete badass. My legs have powered me up and down so many insane mountains, through so many intense river fords, and across so many flat and windy forests. I’ve seen so much this summer, all on my own two feet. All powered by a positive mindset. The hard part was over, it was time to coast into Canada. Or so I naively thought.

imageimage

I hiked along a ridge before I descended into where I decided to camp. The clouds were moving in, and as the sun set behind the mountains I could of swore it was saying goodbye to me. So, being 5 months into this life, I said goodbye back, shedding a tear. I had 1.5 days left, and I knew that was the last time I’d see the sun. Damnit.

The coolest clouds

The coolest clouds

imageimage

I camped by a dirt road that night, surrounded  by hunters (it’s okay guys, my jacket is ORANGE). I got my tent up, my dinner cooked, and the moment I laid down to read it began to rain. Sounds peaceful doesn’t it? Well, it was. I slept great. At sunrise a van full of hunters (none of which spoke English) caused a ruckus and then finally dispersed into the woods. I should of just asked them to shoot me, pleading to kill me now! Hah!

imageimage

No, no, I did not wake up with a bad attitude. It was my last FULL DAY in the woods, and it was a Saturday! This means nothing, but sometimes I get excited about it. My goal was the usual marathon, there was a lake about 27 miles away with camping. All I had to do was keep my head down, and keep one foot in front of the other. I would get there eventually, just going for a walk in the woods, shouldn’t be too bad! Right?! Right?!

image

Worst day of my existence. Terrible horrible no good very bad day. Where’d those hunters go?

Also in my positive mindset corner, a rain jacket! It has a rip in it and I’ve had it for over 5 years and it doesn’t work well. But it’s labeled a rain jacket so it’s GOT to be better than nothing, right? I bundled up. I lost a glove 200 miles ago so I didn’t even bother wearing my other one. Rain pants would have been a good investment. Next time.

image

I took down my sopping tent, stuffed it in a garbage bag and stuffed that in the outside pocket of my pack. Time to get moving or I am going to freeze. 2 miles until Harts Pass, where they’re are drop toilets and maybe car campers offering up hot coffee? Hey, a girl can dream. I got to Harts Pass, used the toilet, threw away some garbage (the BEST feeling) and tried to look as miserable as possible. No one felt bad for me. No one offered coffee. Bitches.

image

Hiking on! After Harts Pass it stopped raining for 25 minutes and it filled me with SO much hope. Turns out the clouds were just filling up so it could dump on us for the next 24 hours straight. Head down, one foot in front of the other. I put my poles in my backpack for the first time all summer. My hands needed to be free so I could stuff them in my pants and shirt to warm up. It sucked not being able to hike with my poles, my ankles were turning all over the place and there were some steep climbs towards the end of the day. My joints saw 100% pressure on the very last day of the trail, kind of funny.

I stopped once around 3:00 because there was a spot the size of my body that a tree was sheltering from the rain. I had 2 scoops of PB left so I hoped to be able to open my pack and devour it. It took a minute, but I was able to figure out a way to unclick my pack buckle. It was a moment. Me, pouring rain, peanut butter, misery. It was a moment.

image

The rest of the day was spent battling the inner turmoil. Hands clenched tightly around my umbrella, held captive to my own mind. A prisoner. Just me, the weather, inaccessible food, and a whole buncha rocks. I saw only 2 others. I spent the afternoon hiking on the edge of my breaking point, going back and forth. I’d go over the edge and yell at the PCT, asking why it was so relentless. Then I’d somehow find a way to bring myself back and apologize for being so crazy. Then I’d yell at it again. Then maybe cry a little bit. Then laugh a little bit. Then clench my fists and tell myself “one last test, one last test.” This whole summer I self-motivated myself to get up, get out, and get it done. I had to dig down deep to see if any of that toughness was left, and I found some, thank god.

The last few miles I was above 7,000′ so it wasn’t raining, it was just ridiculously windy and cold. This worked out well, because there’s nothing like a good wind-storm when you’re soaking wet! I had a heated debate in my head whether I’d rather be hiking in the wind or the rain. I dismissed my own rules to the debate and chose the sun.

image

Last morning in my tent, selfie!

The hardest part about the tenacity of the weather is the fear that comes with it. People ask me all the time…”aren’t you scared out there alone?” On the fair weather days, not so much, I’ve adapted to the change and have gotten used to the elements. But when the weather is as frightening and dangerous as it was on that Saturday, and as it was in the High Sierra, the answer is yes. I’m terrified of everything when the weather is bad. But I’d also still be on the couch if I let fear decide.

Fear. Stress. Imagine them intertwined into a huge ball resting in your gut. It’s just sitting there. You can feel it. You try and try to unravel it, figure out how to make it disappear. But eventually, you must accept that it’s there and that it is going to be part of you until you make it out. It’s this ball of fear that exhausts me the most. It weighs so heavily on my mind. What if nothing is dry? Will I make it through the night? Will I have to keep hiking to stay warm? What if my tent collapses in the storm? So many unknowns. I was so tired from 5+ months of unknowns. My mind needed a vacation from this vacation. Like a Kardashian type vacation. Maybe I’ll book with Sandals.

I made it to the lake, somewhere between 6-7:00. 10 hours of nonstop hiking. 27 miles. The wind was whipping my tent around, and the rain came in heavy bursts. I was sort of dry. My tent door zippers broke again 100 miles ago, so I tried to configure a garbage bag/burger bandana makeshift door to keep the draftiness at bay. It sort of worked. Actually, for the first time ever, I slept with my head away from the door, where my feet should be. It was weird and I didn’t like it, but I felt warmer down there.

image

I read for awhile, afraid to surrender to the efforts of falling asleep. Luckily, I fell asleep, but only for a little bit. I woke up a couple hours later to boil water, my lower half was insanely uncomfortable. I filled up a water bottle of hot water and threw it in my sleeping bag. Also for the first time, I peed in my tent. I didn’t want to disturb my garbage bag/burger bandana door set-up. You know Talenti Gelato? Delicious, delicious gelato. I had a pint jar for a few weeks now, using it as a jar for certain drinks or for protecting fragile fruits. Tonight, I used it as my toilet. I peed in it 3 times, emptying it outside my tent each time just in case it spilled. I wish I did that all summer!

image

Anyways, I couldn’t sleep, so I read and I read, oddly at peace. The worst part was over, my tent seemed to be holding up and sure I could see my breath and was a bit damp, but things could certaintly be worse. Besides, tomorrow night I’d be inside! I’d have to take my time, but I’d be out of here and in a car around 4:00 tomorrow. I was going to be okay. This is a blessing, now I won’t miss the PCT too badly. This is a blessing. A traumatic blessing. Maybe one day I can laugh at this, but probably not.

I left camp at 10:00, this was the plan. I had 6 miles to the border and then another 9 miles to the parking lot at Manning Park. I figured I’d spend 1-2 hours at the border taking photos and hanging out. When I left my tent that Sunday morning and saw fresh snow on the mountain tops, I knew it was my time to end this hike. This is it, the time is right. Let’s go to Canada, Toe Touch, let’s get the F out of here!

image

I got to the Monument and there were at least 10 people there already. Pretty loud group. I thought a lot about what it would feel like to see the monument. I envisioned it often on my boring days in Northern California and Oregon. When I did, I would tear up. Surely the same would happen on the actual day. Nope.

image

The rain had stopped, and it wasn’t a bad morning at all once I got moving. I got to the Monument and really didn’t feel much of anything. The crowd of people and fair weather definitely dimmed any deep emotion I thought I’d have, but I didn’t even feel heavy joy. It felt like another goal achieved, like I had made it to my next resupply point. “Time for pizza and a stop at the market, then back to the trail!” I sat staring at the monument, smiling and boiling water for a celebratory vodka hot chocolate. Don’t get me wrong, I was HAPPY. Very much so. But I’ve had more joyful moments on the trail. This realization made me even happier…

What I’ve come up with is this: the reason I didn’t feel such an overwhelming amount of accomplishment in reaching the border is because I celebrated everyday as such. Every night before bed I’d reflect on the day and give myself a huge high-five, almost not believing where I started that morning. Each morning felt like a lifetime ago. Each day I stayed present and enjoyed all of the little things, and by the time I was ready to camp, I was so fulfilled and felt so accomplished. Each morning I woke up with purpose, with excitement, with gratitude.

image

Its cliche, but it’s worth noting, the joy is in the journey. If my only motivation to do the PCT was to reach Canada, I would have quit long ago. Most did. You need more than an extrinsic motivator. I reached Canada having fun the whole way because my primary goals were in the process and learning experiences of the trail. Canada was secondary. I enjoyed the little things along the way, I enjoyed the physical abuse, I enjoyed the self-development, I enjoyed mastering my own mind, I enjoyed the connections, I enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed the simple life. And damnit, I enjoyed the weather. And if I didn’t enjoy it, I learned from it. I spent the summer investing in myself, and I came out of it a much better version of myself. The joy is in the journey.

image

Emotionally charged post coming soon.

 

 

 

Operation: Slow Down

Day: 140

Mile: 2,292.38

Location: The Mountain Goat Coffee Shop and Bakery — Packwood, Washington

Avocado Count: 54

Shower Count: 32

image

Laura’s going to Canada. My sister Laura, the one getting married on October 1st, has booked her flight to Vancouver on September 18th to greet me at the finish line with beer and ice cream. I still can’t believe it, I often daydream of what my final day will look like, and now I actually have one solid foundation to that fantasy. With this being said, I need to slow down, a lot. She just added an entire week onto my hike! Haha leave it to Laura to take hold of my journey and control the very last part. I’ll for sure hit bad weather now, but I am so, so grateful that she is coming. Another positive is that now I HAVE to zero every chance I get. What a bummer! My body hurts and my feet hurt to touch the ground and now I HAVE to rest them. This means I’ll be spending a lot more money, but just like I’ve been telling everyone all summer “eh, I’ll make more money again someday.” So I’ll continue to spend my nights in golden robes in the lovely presidential suites at the Four Seasons.

Funny part about it is that the resupply points in Washington are no-nothing ski resorts or tiny “hick towns” as one guy told me. True to form, I’m so excited about it.

image

Rewind: this section of my blog was written last week in Trout Lake, Washington.

I’m not sure what’s going on. I know that I’m in Washington somewhere, and I know that every step I take I get closer to realizing my goal. I would say I am getting one step closer to realizing my dream, but we all know I am living my dream every day, the dream is in the journey. The dream is allowing the sun to wake me up as I moan and groan, and then slowly getting ready for the day while half of me is still coiled up in my sleeping bag. A lot of pivoting goes on, a lot of pivoting. The dream is hiking all day, meeting up with old friends, and making new ones. My favorite part of the dream is when I am within a mile of where I hope to camp, my feet hurting but my body feeling light as I have accomplished so much. I wash my face, I wash my feet, I boil water, I write in my journal, I read my book, I eat my chocolate. My dream is in every moment of everyday. My dream is in the routine that I have come to love. The routine that exhausts me beyond comprehension, yet the dream that has left me with boundless energy.

image

image

I can’t make up my mind. As I left Cascade Locks in the late afternoon, I was so high on life. I hiked 7 miles and the whole time was trying to figure out ways to make this last longer. How can I slow this down without sacrificing the physical challenge and accomplishment? Should I get to Canada, turn around, and hike down to see my friends? How hard would they laugh at me? What words and literary phrases would they use to describe the situation, would they all STILL go right over my head? This thought was squashed the next morning when I remembered how difficult it was to get out of my sleeping bag. Progressively more difficult.

Hiking over the Bridge of the Gods!

A bit drafty and buggy, but it's Washington for crying out loud, what did I expect?

A bit drafty and buggy, but it’s Washington for crying out loud, what did I expect?

It has continued to be warm, so I have continued to take advantage of it and am still starting my hike no later than 7:30. The mornings are so quiet and peaceful, especially in a really dense old-growth forest. On the first day there was not even a breeze to speak about, it was as silent as a day gets. Quietest day on the PCT I have had. I found 2 Starbucks instant coffee packets in the hiker box and thought they would be a great addition to my 80+ mile hike to Trout Lake. Surprisingly enough, I didn’t want them. The mornings were so quiet and peaceful, I didn’t want anything to disrupt that calm. I knew if I added caffeine to the mix I would feel a bit more intense, my thoughts would be quick and plenty, and I didn’t want that. I wanted to wake up naturally and walk slowly for the first few hours. There is just something so wonderfully magical about the forest in Washington. It’s unlike any other forest I’ve been in.

image

image

image

My first full day in Washington I accomplished 31 miles and over 8,000 ft. in elevation gain. Kind of ridiculous. I didn’t mean it, really. Okay, maybe I did. I just wanted to complete a 30 mile day in every state, so I thought I’d get it out of the way early. What if I get hurt or sick? Got to take advantage of the beautiful weather and rested muscles while I can. The climbing didn’t seem too bad, at times I barely noticed I was going up. The trail was so soft and covered in a bed of pine needles. It was quality grade-A trail. No terrain is easier or more fun to hike on. I am around a bunch of new people again, both good and bad. There was a big festival in Cascade Locks that a lot of hikers hitched up (or down) to, and most left the same day I did. Another motivation of my initial big day was to get ahead of the group. There’s plenty of people ahead of me for sure, but the people behind me were definitely the party people, and I kind of just wanted to get some space between us. How anti-social is THAT! Oh well, a big reason of choosing to do this particular long trail is because of the solitude it offers, the remoteness. I like to hike and camp alone now-a-days. I like to be social in town and along the way on the trail. At night I like to make my own spot to camp on, both because I feel wilder and because I know someone won’t come in and set up right next to me and snore all night. Anti-social is what I’ve become but I don’t care one bit. I love this style of hiking and it fits me well. I also have less than 400 miles to go and darnnit I’m gonna hike however I want. It’s my one shot, and I’m going to do what makes me happiest. It’s also that fear that if I change things up now that I will lose control and possibly not finish. I think that is true with everyone in one way or another. We get so used to doing something one way that we get scared to switch it up, especially when it’s close to completion, as if we’ll lose all control and all our work will crumble. I have hiked in so many different ways this summer and I am ready to finish up in this manner. With that being said, I bet something will swoop in and change it drastically soon enough. If that’s the case, I’ll roll with it. Because on the other hand, “what the heck.”

image

image

My second day in Washington I aimed for another 30, I got 29.5 in and saw a prime spot so I grabbed it. It was wonderful until when, in the middle of the night, a bear came by for a visit. The night before a little mouse frolicked into my tent and jumped all over me, doing tricks even Simone Biles couldn’t pull off. It was hilarious, and the mouse was adorable, I appreciated its abundant energy. I was just laying there reading so I got to watch the whole mouse show as I sat up and said “hey you, get outta here wouldja!” “come on now, get!” My second zipper broke on my screen door so it’s an open invite to critters.

image

Oh right, the bear. I forgot about bears and the perils. Not much to worry about in Oregon, so this woke me up a bit. The sound of a bear walking around is vastly different from a dumb deer, vastly. I didn’t have to look out to know what it was. Loud thuds, bears are heavy, bears are in Washington. Damnit. I was half-asleep as I threw my coconut oil into my backpack as if that would make any difference. I felt very vulnerable with a broken door, but I somehow fell back asleep pretty quickly. Maybe because I doubled up on Magnesium that night. In the morning I took out my magnifying glass and looked for bear prints. Okay fine I don’t have a magnifying glass and the last piece of equipment you need when looking for bear footprints is a magnifying glass, but it sets a good image right? Anyways, I didn’t see any, mostly because I wasn’t camped on impressionable soil, dirt, or sand. If I had a choice I’d let a mouse run over me every night then have to listen to a bear stomping around while I’m trying to get my beauty sleep. I’d choose a mouse every.time.

image

The countdown is on.

image

Randomly on one of the days I met Nancy. Nancy is Michelle’s mom. Following? No? That’s because Nancy came out of nowhere. I crossed a bridge and there she was, standing in front of her car. She said “Hey! You need anything?” I hesitated, my initial answer to that question is always no, because I never NEED anything, I’m completely self-sufficient, one of my favorite traits acquired this summer. I looked at her and smiled and asked what she was up too. She said she is waiting for her daughter Michelle to get there, she is heading Southbound. She is there to give her food and drinks for the next section. She asked me again if I needed anything. This question was getting harder. She didn’t give me options, which would have made for an easier answer. I made a lot of unsure sounds like “ahhhhhh ehhhhh i meannnnnnn maybeeeeeeee??? but no thank you I’m fine, I have all I need.” Nancy felt my resistance, saw right through me. She said “HERE, take this soda and bag of trail mix and keep going! get out of here would ya! you have miles to hike dontcha!” I felt like I was at a water stop for the longest race ever. It felt good, I felt like a professional endurance athlete. She shoved them in my hand and I screamed a high-pitched THANK YOU” as I raced away, just as she wanted me to. I passed Michelle 2 miles later and told her that her mother is a saint. She laughed and said yes, yes she is.

image

After my night with the bear, I hiked 15 miles to the extremely special town of Trout Lake. Trout Lake is a 13 mile hitch down a forest service road. When I got to the road, I met Trail Angels Coppertone and Jerry. Coppertone is known among the PCT community for following the thick of the pack all summer and making us ROOT BEER FLOATS. Jerry is a newcomer to the trail angeling world and had tons of snacks and sausages cooking. I hung out with them and met 5 new hikers relaxing around the spread. Proton and DreamCatcher had a friend coming to pick them up to take them into Trout Lake and invited me along. We got into town and had lunch together at the Cafe. These guys were so great and we became friends quickly. They had other friends already in town and before I knew it I was surrounded by a ton of new, hilarious, and really outgoing hikers. It was a typical town lunch filled with laughter, conversation, and mockery of the trail. Proton snuck up and paid my bill, hikers are so generous. We receive so much support and generosity from trail angels that we immediately start paying it forward towards other hikers and the communities we land in. It’s an incredible circle of humanity.

image

Hiker from Boston!

A hiker from Boston!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Trout Lake means a lot to me because it is where we were based out of for our summer doing Trail Work with AmeriCorps. It was in this town where someone told me what P.C.T. stood for. It was in this town where I saw my first real mountain (Adams). It was in this town where I learned what Organic food was. It was in this town where I met Chuckles and Camel. It was in this town where I learned how to backpack. It was in this town where I was rewarded for good, honest, hard-work. It was in this town where I fully realized the true meaning of volunteering. The biggest risk I ever took was applying and accepting the position as “Trail Crew Team Member” for the Northwest Service Academy, getting on a plane for my first time out West, and embarking on a life in the elements. All brand new. Zero experience. Just a good feeling.

image

image

I felt like I made it home. I made it back to Trout Lake all the way from Mexico. I’d been in touch with one of the old coordinators for the trail crew program, and friend, Katie. I am currently at her house now. Her and her husband have welcomed me into their home, given me full access to laundry, shower, a bed, and their refrigerator. Angels. They have 2 adorable boys who I got to hang out with on Friday and we kicked the soccer ball around and got Huckleberry milkshakes. Trout Lake is tiny, it is a general store, cafe, local watering hole, and post office. Mt. Adams watches over the town providing some of the best town scenery one can find. It’s the simple life, the type of town I think we all deep down fantasize living in. I am lucky enough to have lived here, and to know the amazing souls who have made a life here.

Need more?

Need more?

imageimage

image

The ole mess hall!

The ole mess hall!

I thought I would only spend 1 night, but Katie made me so comfortable that I am extending my stay. Tonight is the last “pizza party” at Debbie and Rods house. They have a wood-fired oven and invite the whole town over every Friday night in the summer. They roll out the dough, all you have to do is bring your own toppings and a dessert to share if you wish. When I heard that I just couldn’t leave! Also, Camel should be coming into town today, and it would be great to see him here!

imageimage

I found Camel! Being as Italian as ever

I found Camel! Being as Italian as ever

Decisions are hard when you're hungry, so everything, I put EVERYTHING on my pizza

Decisions are hard when you’re hungry, so everything, I put EVERYTHING on my pizza

Okay fast forward! I wrote all of that from Trout Lake, I am now in Packwood at the said cafe. Clearly, I found Camel and we had a blast at the neighborhood pizza party. All of the ingredients were locally sourced and the cheese made by the local cheese guy (who has made it quite big in the 5 years since I’ve last been here, ever hear of Cascadia Creamery?).  It was a great way to end my time in Trout Lake, and after Katie made us pancakes in the morning, her husband Ian drove us to the trailhead.

image

Sketchy, at best.

Sketchy, at best.

Camel and I hiked the first couple of hours together talking more than we both have probably talked in 2 months. We’ve both made lots of friends since the Mile 55 split, but still mostly fly solo. During the conversation I think I successfully followed 1 movie/literary reference. That’s really good for me. Applause is not only appreciated, but required. Thank you, thank you. The rest of the day I hiked and picked huckleberries. I was eating so many I kept hearing my moms voice “you’re eating so many huckleberries you’re going to turn INTO A HUCKLEBERRY!” Much like she tells my dad “you’re going to turn INTO A BURGER.” So I naturally thought of Violet Beauregarde and how funny it would be if that really happened to people after eating too much of one thing. I then crossed a river that looked like chocolate and just gave in and recited the whole movie in my head. You can understand my surprise coming back into service and seeing that Gene Wilder had passed. So strange.

image

The Chocolate River! RIP, Gene Wilder

The Chocolate River! RIP, Gene Wilder

Breakfast for dinner with my gather of the day!

Breakfast for dinner with my gather of the day!

The day had some really lovely clouds that turned really dark in the late afternoon. As dark as some were, they still didn’t seem threatening and I knew they would blow away quickly. It’s a good thing that ended up being true, because the following day we entered the Goat Rocks Wilderness, the only other area on the trail that you can even compare to the Sierra. I’ve worked in the Goat Rocks before, but I was still wildly excited. I knew I’d be seeing it from a different perspective this time. I’d been looking forward to this day for a really long time.

image

The Goat Rocks was such an incredible day that it is getting its own photo gallery blog post. I will have that up later today with a paragraph about the section. I am currently taking a zero here in Packwood. Yesterday I hitched the 20 miles into town with a guy named Arnold. Arnold was driving a slaughter truck. It was big, loud, and stinky. I was with my friend Green Bean and when he pulled over she was like oh no, no no no, you go for it, I’ll get the next one, I don’t support that. Green Bean is a vegan. You couldn’t write this stuff.

image

Thanks for the package Bailey!!

The good news is that I’m still alive. Everything about getting in that slaughter truck SHOULD have seemed like the wrong thing to do. But it didn’t feel wrong, it felt oddly normal, like I climb up into slaughter trucks with guys named Arnold on the daily. He’s a really nice guy by the way, Arnold. He was envious of my adventure, he says he’s been in the slaughtering business his whole life and that “it’s a living, not a life.” Well said, Arnold, well said.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Let’s Just Say 2,000, Shall We?


Day: 120

Location: Boise, Idaho (wait, what?)

Mile: 1998.5 (gah.)

Showers: 27

Avocados: 45

Quick Note: occasionally I’ll post this blog from a desktop at a library, and when I do all the pictures show up upside down. I then read it on my iPhone and all the photos look fine. So if you read my blog only from a desktop, no, I don’t pour a bottle of whiskey into my coffee before publishing this.

When the trail gets you down, strangers lift you up.

I love Ashland, and I can’t wait to go back and buy an old Victorian home with all the money I’m making this summer.

image

After totally geeking out at the really cheap and amazing organic market, I got 3 new secret weapons for the week (I usually only have 1 secret weapon, but I couldn’t stop myself). The store had both apple cider vinegar and coconut oil in BULK. Filled up on those and grabbed some local Grass-fed cheese, ready for Oregon!

image

Friday morning I went to the popular breakfast joint in Ashland (Morning Glory) and sat myself at the breakfast bar. The number of breakfast counters I’ve sat at this summer is very high, which makes me really happy because there is nothing more fun for me. I got a HUGE breakfast and the pancakes were topped with lemon butter. Lemon.Butter. It was possibly the best breakfast of my life. An older gentlemen named Miles sat next to me. I started small talk and before I knew it he was giving me a book to read. This book is called “Our Souls At Night” by Kent Haruf. I had just bought a new book at the library (1 buck!), but felt there was a reason he was offering me this book. I told him I would love to read it as long as he took my book to read or pass along to someone. He was really grateful for the exchange, and then started talking about how he was bullied when he was younger. Unfortunately, he seemed like a sad man, and the book he gave me is also a little sad, and as I am almost done with it, I still am not sure why he wanted me to read it. I’ll continue to search for the meaning and if I really can’t find one I’ll make something up! As we left the restaurant he nervously offered me a ride to the trail (you could tell he didn’t want to make me feel uncomfortable by offering a ride, a trait I totally respect) but I had already called my Geologist friend Ray to come pick me up, so we said goodbye and he wished me well. I hope something really good happens to Miles today, something really, really good.

image

Ray dropped me at the trail at noon and it was HOT. The trail was pretty crappy for those 20 miles. I saw some friends at the only water stop and hung out for a bit. I spent the next 2 days doing 30 milers, being relatively bored of the flat and forested trail, playing limbo with all the down trees, adding lots of steps going all the way around them, trying not to scratch myself on the bark, and being sad about how UN-agile I am with a backpack on. I wanted to pretend I was training for American Ninja Warrior, and as I approached each log I pictured myself hurdling them, or doing front handsprings, or even at the very least treating them like a steeplechase —  but I just ended up belly-rolling over these huge trees like I don’t have one ounce of athleticism in me. I also made a lot of “gahhh” noises. It was a pathetic 60 miles.

A water fountain? Where am I?? The MALL

A water fountain? Where am I?? The MALL

imageimage

I like to call these types of obstacles, the "quad-burners"

I like to call these types of obstacles, the “quad-burners”

I got to Crater Lake on Monday afternoon and immediately went to the restaurant. There was an all-you-can-eat salad bar which also included Bison Chili and a Nacho Bar? Why even spend time looking at the menu? Waiter-man get me a PLATE! As I sat down with my first salad a gentlemen (I’m kicking myself for forgetting his name) sat down at the table next to me. My legs were completely covered in dirt, way worse than normal because when I wasn’t rolling over the trees I was on my knees crawling under them. He quickly noticed and asked if I was out for a hike — hah! “Yeah, a long one, sorry that I am so dirty and you have to sit near me.” He didn’t mind, he was blown away by my hike and couldn’t get enough information out of me. Part of me really wanted to focus on my lovely meal I’ve been dreaming about, but early on in the conversation he said he had just lost his wife and isn’t used to traveling alone. There was no way I was going to let this sweet man eat by himself. I answered all of his questions throroughly, and asked a bunch myself. He was so adorable, and he couldn’t stop telling me how inspired he was by my long solo journey. He couldn’t wait to look at the maps and plan his next hike, he came in looking rather lost and left really bright-eyed. Usually I’m uncertain of how people REALLY feel when I tell them that yes, I am doing this alone, but it was clear that he found it really admirable and inspiring, which made me even more confident and grateful for our interaction.

[[*Note: I finally became confident in saying this, I no longer give the extended version of starting with a group of friends, I finally don’t care how people view my decision to go off alone, I am finally proud to say that yes, I.am.alone. Took long enough huh?]]

Cheerleaders come in all shapes and sizes, alive or dead

Cheerleaders come in all shapes and sizes, alive or dead

Trail magic on a rather dull day! Perked me right up

Trail magic on a rather dull day! Perked me right up

He asked if he could take a picture of me, I laughed and said of course! As long as I could have one of him. I would never, under any other circumstance take this awkward photo otherwise, just want everyone to know that. This was the first of MANY encounters with the tourists at Crater Lake National Park.

imageimage

My plan was to get a meal, get my resupply boxes (a candle and the Poughkeepsie Journal from Clairebear and healthy treats and a BURGER BANDANNA from Alicia and Fand! And of course, an inspiring letter from Erin and Momma T!), and then hike a few more miles. Plans don’t normally work out, and this was no exception. There is a fire on the west side of the lake and part of the trail was closed, but I thought I could get away with hiking a bit. I’m glad I didn’t leave that evening because they shut down the whole PCT Rim Trail an hour later. It was a weird moment, my bag was packed, I said goodbye to everyone, and started to leave the parking lot. I stopped after 3 minutes, paused, and turned back around. It just didn’t feel right, I listened to my instinct and stayed put till morning.

I guessed my arrival back in April, NAILED IT

I guessed my arrival back in April, NAILED IT

This is Honey from Arkansas, her friend just sent her a POM POM. I haven't seen her since the 2nd week of the trail!

This is Honey from Arkansas, her friend just sent her a POM POM. I haven’t seen her since the 2nd week of the trail!

Classic Erin inspirational boost!

Classic Erin inspirational boost!

Thanks Ma!

Thanks Ma!

imageimage

Crater Lake is awesome in that they have a specific section where Hikers can camp for 5 dollars and they offer free showers! Basically they give us a patch of woods across from the actual campground and tell us to find a flat spot. I set up my tent and went to take a shower. I ran into Monique and Bert again and Bert was so excited about his recent purchase. You see, when I first met Bert I looked at his pack and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought I was dreaming, but yes, yes that is a glass bottle of wine in his side pocket of his backpack. This guy packs out a full bottle of wine? Belgians rule.

Anyways he just bought a new bottle of wine, but this bottle of wine is made for “outdoor enthusiasts” and is PLASTIC. He was so happy. I can’t wait to see them on trail again.

Ya don't say!

Ya don’t say!

I was 5th in line for the shower. The 4 people in front of me were car campers and they fired away with questions about my life. Pretty obvious ones at first, but after awhile the questions always get better. I didn’t mind this Q&A because most were coming from a very handsome English boy. He is on a 2-month road trip around Canada and the West Coast, he lives in London and is getting his PHD in Philosophy, should of saw THAT coming! His whole line of study is based around the question “why?” We hit it off, skipped our showers, hopped in his car and headed for Vegas. I am now married to an English Scholar. My tent is still in Crater Lake. Mom, I’M KIDDING.

Sweet Pea said she had to take a picture of me because I looked SO happy on this trolley with my coffee

Sweet Pea said she had to take a picture of me because I looked SO happy on this trolley with my coffee

After a wonderful warm shower, I dried off with my “Burger Bandana” (thanks fand and lee!) and headed back to my tent. I passed a group of hikers around the fire and it smelled like they were practicing their hobbies, hobbies in which I’m not very much into, so I decided to go hang outside the general store with a couple of beers. Beers, picnic tables, and hikers, now I feel more comfortable! I caught up with Old School and got the gossip of the break-up of her group. I knew the 4 of them pretty well, they actually were the guys who saw me at my absolute lowest physical point. It was during the snow storm in the Sierra when my lips were inflamed, my eyes were bloodshot, and I had mild hypothermia. They are all good people because they continue to talk to me after witnessing me at my craziest. Old School is now hiking solo and after just 2 sips of my beer I wanted all the dirt. My life has a negative amount of drama right now, so whenever I can get my hands on someone else’s drama, I eat it up.

Today's pretend lunch: Braised Rack of Lamb

Today’s pretend lunch: Braised Rack of Lamb

We were all bummed the Rim Trail was closed but I was telling everyone that if we all believe it will open in the morning, then gosh darnit IT WILL open in the morning! The power of positivity! Picnic table to picnic table I was rallying the troops. When morning came, it wasn’t open. Man I’m obnoxious.

image

I knew one thing, I wasn’t going to wait around all day HOPING it would open. It’s a wildfire for crying out loud, they aren’t going to open and close it by the hour. Old School, Willy Wa, Shantyman and I hopped on the trolley and headed to the Rim Village. It was here when we finally saw the lake, and it wasn’t as clear as I remember. The smoke filled the sky and completely blurred most of it out, it was so sad. BUT we all still agreed, we freakin’ walked here from Mexico, that is still something to feel really good about.

No go.

No go.

Hitch-hiking is illegal in National Parks (bummer) so the only way around the fire was to ask strangers for a ride using our words, not our thumbs. I went off solo, and if I got a ride with a family who had extra room, I’d ask if they could bring my friends. My strategy was to play it really cool, not come off like a hobo, and smile a lot, but not too much. Look sad, but act positive. There was a nice looking family sitting outside of the RimVillage Cafe, they looked approachable so I went for it. Hey, I showered last night with soap AND I have a coffee in my hand, I got this! I introduced myself and asked if they were driving around the East Side of the Rim, they said they were but were planning to stop for a quick waterfall hike. I said that sounds delightful and if they were still willing to give me a ride to let me know after they finished their coffee. I left after we talked a little about the PCT and got better acquainted. 15 minutes later Richard found me and said they are ready to go and would love to give me a lift! Yes! I hopped in the back with Richard and Jeanettes niece Emma (from London!) and we started our family vacation. We were talking so much Richard drove in the wrong direction for several miles and no one noticed. Once we started heading east (the right direction) we stopped at a waterfall and took a selfie. We kept joking about how they adopted me for the morning and I kept telling them how much I’ve been craving a family vacation all summer and how much I was enjoying our little national park road trip!

Thanks again fam!

Thanks again fam!

Richard and Jeannette were so kind and friendly. They live in Vancouver, B.C. so you can only imagine how excited I was about that (I plan to move there this winter). I asked a bunch of questions, and they asked a bunch more. They were really interested in the PCT and support my journey so much. It was a wonderful morning and it made me really thankful for how things worked out. Yeah sure I missed a spectacular section of the PCT, but it was only 20 miles and the trail ended up being closed for over a week, so a lot of hikers went through the same thing. Instead, I got to meet and connect with some of the nicest, funniest people. We exchanged information and Richard said to let him know when I cross the border. Well Richard, I plan on doing just that, and I can’t wait to share a victory beer with you and your family, because that victory wouldn’t be possible without the help of all the strangers who became friends, just like you both. Thanks again for helping turn a negative into a positive!

image

And that was the Crater Lake experience. It was a good tiny break to catch up with some of the other hikers I haven’t seen in awhile. It was even more beneficial to hear MadDog say “you know it’s funny, the closer I get to Canada the harder it is mentally, and the harder it is to get out of my sleeping bag in the morning.” I’m so glad I’m not alone in that feeling. The bottom line is that we all have invested so much in this hike. There are not many of us left, most of the people who started in Mexico have gone home or have skipped sections. At this point, what could possibly make us quit? We have so much to lose if we break mentally, we’ve come so far and have given up so much. A lot of people are racing through Oregon because it’s so flat (comparatively) and because it’s the smallest state. Once we get to Washington I think a lot of people will start to once again take their time, because it’s the chute to Canada (the longest chute ever, but still a chute in my mind). It’s also (besides the Sierra) the highlight of the trail. We race through NorCal and Oregon so we can take our time in Washington, I’m excited to see if it actually that plays out that way.

All downhill from here!

All downhill from here!

I’ve been doing pretty okay, but the days just seem to last forever. I’m averaging 30 miles a day, hiking from 7-7 normally. The first 200 miles of Oregon trail has been pretty boring, there isn’t much water, and the mosquitoes are driving me to an early grave. Southern Oregon is not known to be spectacular, and I knew that coming in, but I still thought it would be a littleeee bit more exciting. We are in a warm forest all day. Sometimes, for 5 minutes, it spits us out on a ridge and we feel the breeze, get a little reprieve from the mosquitoes, and stand in awe of the beautiful mountains and lakes that have been there all along. Oregon, why so modest? Keeping us in a forest all day when all that beauty is just right past your trees? Okay fine, your forest can be quite magical, and I enjoy a lot of it, but I need more ridges. Ridges I say! Views! Make me work for it!

image

image

After my fabulous morning with my new Canadian family, I hiked 20 miles before I found a place to camp. As I approached I saw a girl sketching in her notebook, we looked at each other quizzically and asked “are you thru-hiking? Northbound?” We had never met before. This is weird because I know just about everyone within a 4 day radius, and especially being another solo female (there are VERY few of us) we were both surprised we hadn’t met yet. Her name is Lefty, and I definitely heard of her because she was hiking with Stoic (Syracuse native, Seattle transplant that I met 600 miles ago and have been on the same schedule with since) for a long time, so Stoic would bring up her name a lot. To my dismay she is NOT a lefty, she got her name because she eats everyone’s leftovers hah! Point being, we talked all evening. We gossiped about the other hikers (obviously), I showed her all the new stuff my friends got me, talked about my “secret weapons,” and as I did a plank workout she didn’t judge me, she just kept chatting. It almost felt like we were in middle school and having a slumber party. It’s funny how quickly you can become friends with someone out here. Some people REALLY keep to themselves, but for the most part, it’s a really social trail, and everyone is so open and friendly. At what other point in my life would I stumble upon a person sketching and then start doing planks as we talk about burger bandannas and “trailmances” between people we barely know? It was one of those nights I went to bed so at peace with everything. The day was filled with so many new people, but also filled with incredible connections. It was just another day of new, exciting, and extremely abnormal experiences. It was one of those nights I went to bed whispering to myself “I love this life.”

image

At one point you are faced with a decision, take the Oregon Skyline Trail (OST) (8 miles shorter, more water, less climbing, but more mosquitoes) or stay on the PCT. I didn’t give it much thought, I was going to stick with my pal the PCT. I actually said that to, “my pal the PCT” and I’m not embarrassed about it. Turns out, everyone else chooses the OST so therefore, I had the whole PCT to myself! Party! Now when I pee right next to the trail I don’t have to constantly look both ways, I am ALMOST certain no one is going to turn the corner and see my butt. If someone told me that the OST is way more beautiful than the PCT, I would have considered taking it. But after missing 20 miles due to the fire closure, I didn’t want to cut out another 8. Plus, I like climbing, and I don’t care that there isn’t much water, I’ll make it work, especially if it means less mosquitoes.

There wasn't "less" mosquitoes.

There wasn’t “less” mosquitoes.

Taking the PCT turned out to be the best decision. You see, 5 years ago our trail crew with AmeriCorps worked on the PCT and we worked in Diamond Peaks Wilderness on TWO separate occasions, so lots of memories! You know what section I would have missed if I changed my mind last minute to do the OST? YEP Diamond Peaks Wilderness! I would have missed all those miles trekking down memory lane! Guys, I can’t begin to describe what it was like to walk through the area we worked in. We made sooo many check-steps and I think I walked over each of them twice so I could test them out in each direction. One check-step in particular was my baby. I spent ALL DAY on ONE check-step, it must have drove my leaders nuts! We should have been doing about 4 a day, but I put so much love into this one check-step my nickname at the end of the summer was “One-a-day-check-step.” I wasn’t sure if I’d remember which one it was. Every time I thought I found it, I took a picture, but it never felt right. But then, then I found it. Something stopped me and after I hiked over it I turned around and laughed, I laughed so hard. For taking all day to make it, it’s not the best. BUT it’s still there and holding strong! Just at an odd angle is all. It kind of makes me love it more actually. The black sheep. Anyways, I was flooded with memories and laughed my way through those miles.

image

Whoa! Where's the ice ax when ya need it!

Whoa! Where’s the ice ax when ya need it!

We made so many check-steps

We made so many check-steps

This is my babay

This is my babay

That summer, that program, those people, those mountains, completely changed the direction of my life. After that I stopped looking for desk jobs and started looking for opportunities to travel and live a life more suited for happiness, rather than for a paycheck. I owe every experience I’ve had since to that summer trail crew, and a lot of my best friends stemmed from there. Heck, it was when I was first introduced to the PCT, I had not a CLUE what the PCT was! I would have only recently learned about it like everyone else, thanks to the efforts of both Cheryl and Reese. That trail crew summer changed my worldddd.

Please, camp on rocks.

One night last week I raced through swarms of mosquitoes. We all say the phrase “eaten alive” a lot. But it’s never been more factual until now. They were eating me alive. I almost threw in the towel, collapsed, and let them have me. I couldn’t move fast enough, I couldn’t swing aggressively enough, they were the worst of the trail so far. Biting through my clothes and buzzing so loud, I couldn’t find one bit of relief. I should have just peed my pants because now I have bites in places that really shouldn’t be bitten. I finally got to Summit Lake, and it was beautiful. I was hoping for a breeze coming off the lake to minimize the skeeters, but no breeze tonight! Sorry Charlie! But I did find 2 fishing buddies camped there. They fished and kayaked all day and were prepping dinner and hanging by a nice fire. I went over to say hello and they immediately offered me a drink and dinner. I couldn’t believe my luck, after an awful end to my hike, I came across the relief I desperately needed. I graciously accepted, set up my tent, and joined them for dinner: Kale Pesto Pasta with Ricks homemade bacon. It was the best pasta dish I have ever had. Even Tim agreed on how good it was.

image

We chatted a lot about nutrition and life and Rick told me his wife did the PCT in the mid 2000’s and will be so happy to hear he fed a thru-hiker! After a glass of Merlot, I raced into my tent (throughout dinner I had at least 30 mosquitoes on me at a time, even with the fire roaring, they were relentless). I was disgusted, somehow 17 mosquitoes got in. I spent the next 20 minutes using my dirty towelettes to smoosh these skeeters to a bloody death. I finally got them all, and finally let myself relax. It’s odd how TERRIFYING mosquitoes can be in large numbers. I sat in my tent staring at them in complete horror. I mean it’s bad enough I sleep every night in a structure shaped and sized like a coffin, so I don’t need any further help feeling the wrath of death at night. (This is false, I’m never scared at night, I sleep like a baby in my yellow coffin.) I ended up sleeping really well that night and as I left camp early the next morning Tim ran over and offered me a sip of his coffee before I left hah! How did he know I was secretly hoping there would be some sort of coffee offering come morning. 👍

image

image

I got into the (very) small town of Lake Crescent after a rather painful 18 miles. My feet were super sore and I could feel new blisters sprouting so I decided to spend the night in town. Boy am I glad I did because they had a VHS Movie library in the laundry room! So many classics! I also had a microwave in my room so I went to the store and bought a potato and butter. I microwaved that potato so hard and slathered it in butter and never loved life so much. I also opened my resupply package from home and found a few extra treats in there!

Toughest decision of the summer

Toughest decision of the summer

Doing Great Awesome!

Doing Great Awesome!

Thanks bro!

Thanks bro!

I left town after lunch and did a fun 17 miles past tons of beautiful and big lakes. Best part? The mosquitoes weren’t even that bad! I felt like I was on a Oregon Lake Tour but there wasn’t a guide, it was free, and I was the only one signed up. I floated to camp and found a lovely spot right on Lake Charlton.

image

What I look like when the mosquitoes aren't "that bad"

What I look like when the mosquitoes aren’t “that bad”

image

Just when you think you're alone, a guy floats by in his canoe while you journal in your tent.

Just when you think you’re alone, a guy floats by in his canoe while you journal in your tent.

Anyone lose a toothbrush?

Anyone lose a toothbrush?

Saturday and Sunday I did about 31 miles each. The terrain was flat and the trail was perfectly soft. I moved just like how I pictured thru-hikers to move before I became one. It was a swift and effortless movement, a glide. I like to imagine myself as looking graceful and coordinated, but I’m sure I was stomping my feet and wobbling all over the place. Fine, I was probably all over the trail but in my head I moved like an Angel damnit!

image

image

After a chilly wake-up next to Lake Charlton I hiked for 3 minutes before I heard “hey you want some hot coffee?” “Ummm YES.” There is a unpaved forest service road by the lake and this guy was car camping there for a few days. He is a trail angel and he goes by “Crazy Joe”…he used to work in Law and traveled all around the world, now he lives out of his car and gives free drinks to hikers. He said “one day I’ll have to find a job, but that day ain’t TODAY and it ain’t TOMORROW neither!” His volume and laugh were right on par with what one would expect out of someone named “Crazy Joe” and I ended up sitting with him for an hour. He gave me his old army tin canteen to drink out of, and it was the weirdest receptacle I’ve ever drank coffee from. I loved it. Crazy Joe told me about a “lava field” that was coming up in the next 80 miles and as if I didn’t already feel like I am part of the worlds longest video game, that confirmed it.

Crazy Joe!

Crazy Joe!

I camped that night on what looked like a mini helicopter pad. Most of the day was spent in the forest but the last 2.5 miles I climbed up 1,000′ and was finally able to see what it was all leading up to. I was so excited to break out of the forest, the mosquitoes were quite bad and it had a nasty warmth to it. As I climbed it got chilly and the breeze picked up, I was so excited to see what was up top.

image

Can you tell I've been out here for 4 months?

Can you tell I’ve been out here for 4 months?

image

Dinner that night was my favorite, “breakfast for dinner”…oatmeal with fresh-picked huckleberries (a very yummy part of my day) and a dollop of almond butter. Since I don’t cook breakfast or lunch and had sent myself a big bag of rolled oats in my latest package (that I packed in April, I don’t remember what is in any package so it’s always a surprise from my former self, very exciting) I had a couple B’s for D’s that section. I layered up because it must of dropped down to the low 30’s that night, Fall is in the air and it’s been a lot of cold nights and crisp mornings until the sun hits! What this means in my life is that it’s getting MUCH harder to get going by 7 BUT hiking during the day is the best because all of my “Fall” memories and nostalgia are surfacing and that’s good because I am ALL OUT of summer topics to think about! Truthfully, when things get really boring in there I always turn to my favorite thought: Christmas, all things Christmas. I’ve crafted a list of gifts for everyone in my family for the next 27 years. Next week I’ll start working on the list 28 years from now.

image

A Christmas tree EATING another Christmas tree, craziness!

A Christmas tree EATING another Christmas tree, craziness!

Sunday was a top day for me. I’d throw it in the top 5 backcountry days this summer. I entered 3 Sisters Wilderness and couldn’t believe my eyes. Huge mountains, bright wildflowers, gentle streams, ripe huckleberries, an interesting lava field, more lakes, a nice chilly sunny breeze, and of course, butterflies. I was having fun hiking again. I didn’t need/want any distractions, I was so engaged with my surroundings that the day flew by. Around 4:00 I saw a sign for Trail Angels at a nearby camp 4 minutes off the trail. I found Karen and Harold from Eugene making hot dogs and offering beer and sodas. Their son, Duckee, is thru-hiking THIS summer (a week behind me, never met him) and they wanted to get into trail angeling to meet, feed, and support as many hikers as they can. They were so sweet and it came at a perfect time of day, I was 25 miles in and only had 5 more to go. I hung out for about an hour, had a hot-dog for the first time since I was 10, and then had a great last few miles. Well, that’s not entirely true, the last few miles were over a harsh lava field with rocks spanning over 150,000 years old, my feet hated me for the 2475939 time this summer, it was REALLY windy, the clouds turned eerily dark, and I really, really thought I was on Mars. Positive? Epic sunset and sunrise, and I didn’t get rained on. And I had “burgers” and Mac n’ Cheese for dinner and the rest of my Rolos (I know, who eats rolos?!? I think about how weird it is every time I eat one).

image

Lake Break

Lake Break

imageimageimageimageimageimage

Thank you Karen and Harold!

Thank you Karen and Harold!

imageimageimage

So this huge blog comes down to Monday. I woke up to an amazing sunrise in a lava field and had an easy (but very chilly) 14.5 miles to the highway. My friend, and old trail crew leader, Kyra, just so happens to be traveling around Oregon visiting friends. I told her I’d be in Bend on Monday and she offered to both pick me up at the trail-head (37 miles from town, would have been a tough hitch) and also treat me to a hotel room. Friend of the year? Just wait. After apologizing for not having enough pop music prepared for me during the ride, we got to Bend and walked into a restaurant for lunch. BAM! SURPRISE!!! Camel (Dugan) was there! I think my first words were “DID YOU PASS ME?!?” I’m sure no one is surprised by this, I have a slight competitor in me. Turns out he is 150 miles behind me (took a lot of time off in Crater Lake for a friends wedding and other casualness). Kyra got a hold of him (we all initially met in 2011 out here for the trail crew summer) and he was like oh yeah! So he hiked to the nearest highway and hitched 70 MILES to Bend, stayed with a friend the night before and then surprised me at lunch. I haven’t seen any member of Mile 55 since late June, it was beyond amazing to see him. We caught up and as we walked to dinner that night we saw the Warriors! (Combat Vets that are on a sponsored thru-hike whom we’ve known since practically the first day). It was SO random, we got beers and then dinner from food trucks and then more beers. It was a blast. After the first few sips of the first beer I found myself dramatically telling the story everyone always wants to hear: The day I served VP Biden (and both sons) chili, burgers, and pie. It was so good to have so many close friends around, and the night ended with a slumber party in the motel room!

imageimage

Reppin' the 845

Reppin’ the 845

image

Wait, is that RANT driving a truck? down a residential street 40 miles from the nearest trail access? What the

Wait, is that RANT driving a truck? down a residential street 40 miles from the nearest trail access? What the

The Warriors! Taking over BeastMasters apartment while he's at work haha

The Warriors! Taking over BeastMasters apartment while he’s at work haha

Maggie already captioned this "aww look, Team Orange and the Old Prospectors, you guys could be a band!"

Maggie already captioned this “aww look, Team Orange and the Old Prospectors, you guys could be a band!”

Pals

Pals

Kyra and Camel dropped me off at the car rental place after a solid continental breakfast (soooo much cereal!). They both got out and inspected the car to make sure it was up to safety standards. Camel even started smacking the seats to make sure their comfort level was up to snuff. After Kyra told me not to forget to adjust my mirrors 17 times, we said a sad goodbye and I hit the road! So very thankful for their friendship.

Kyra clothed us both, she also only allows awkward group photos

Kyra clothed us both, she also only allows awkward group photos

I will be off the trail for over a week (eeek!). Laura’s bachelorette party is in a cabin in Montana and there was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be there. I may not make the wedding, but damnit, I’ll be on that couch in Montana doing hot tub laps and eating all of the carbs! Again mom, I’m kidding, I’ll be at the wedding! Jeez.

Leaving the trail for over a week has been an exciting thought. I’m trying not to be too worried about my reentry next week; although all hikers can agree “the first day back sucks, it ALWAYS sucks.” Physically, I’ll be better than okay, I’ll actually have time to repair and rebuild some muscles this week. Mentally? Yeah, a bit nervous about that. I had such a good rhythm going, and tons of momentum, but I’ll get those back in a few days. Just got to stay positive! I absolutely cannot wait to see my sisters, hang with Laura’s lovely friends, drink wine and recite Claire quotes all weekend and laugh, laugh soooo darn much. A chorus of laughter is only a couple days away, and although Laura says all she wants me to do is sleep 15 hours a day, I don’t plan on sleeping even half of that over the course of the entire weekend. Time to hit the pavement, on 4 wheels, and with an insane amount of SNACKS! Can’t wait to see what the TOP hits are on the radio now a days!

LOL

LOL

Also, really loving Boise's enthusiasm

Also, really loving Boise’s enthusiasm (!)

 

 

Exit:California

Day: 108

Location: Noble Coffee Roasting, Ashland, Oregon (!)

Mile: 1,716.2

Avocado Count: 44

Shower Count: 24

image

Adios monster state! The last 220 miles of California were amazing. I left Shasta on a Tuesday afternoon, hitching a ride with the daughter of the mother who drove me INTO Mt. Shasta. What are the odds! Fabulous family, that momma raised her daughter right!

I left Shasta really excited to get back on trail. After spending 3 nights in a motel room I was feeling spoiled and undeserving of all the luxuries, it was time to get back to the dirt n’ vert and earn my next town stop. I was given antibiotics for my kidney infection and they started working right away. They made me nauseous every morning but I never actually threw up, so it was a success. The amount of probiotics I stuffed my face with was outrageous. I was scared of any side effect, and since I haven’t been too responsible about filtering my water, I didn’t want my gut to be filled with bad and weak bacteria. I needed only the good and strong bacteria in there! So after many grass-fed yogurt, raw sauerkraut, and kombucha parties, I got back to hiking.

Phew, just in time!

Phew, just in time!

I would have left a day earlier if someone didn’t charge $110 to a Party City in Illinois on my credit card. The lady with Chase shut it down immediately and I started crying on the phone saying she needed to reactivate it because that was my only source of money. “I’ll pay for the fraudulent party!” I cried out to her with no luck. With $29 in cash, and still needing to resupply for the next section, I would have been a very, very undernourished hiker. I cried and cried and she didn’t budge. “it’s for your personal protection, Ms. McCloskey, this is for your personal protection.” BUT I NEED FOOD. hah! I calmed down and we came up with a solution, she would overnight my new card to my current motel and I would pray it would get there in time…oh, and that the owners of the motel didn’t mind. Everything worked out, and I now have access to my bank account again :).  I hope that Illinois thief at least threw a killer party.

image

Real world stress. How do you guys do it everyday? Man, one problem with my credit card and I was in tears. You go from floating through the wilderness everyday and then you get to town, switch your phone on, and are immediately flooded with responsibilities. It’s usually all fun and good responsibilities, but when it involves finances and being on the phone with major companies? Awful, hats off to you all living the life of a civilian, I clearly cannot handle it.

All I need

All I need

California toes

California toes

Back at it! A little climb out of town and I ran into Wood-Rat and Gal Pal (a favorite trail name). They are all over the place hiking southbound. This is my second time running into them and we actually stood in the middle of the trail for a half hour chatting. None of us even took off our packs. It was a great reintroduction to the trail after being off of it for 3 days. I was gaining more confidence with every step and after 10 miles tossed up my tent. The next day is when I had my moment. My moment of “yes, this feels right, this feels fun.” I took a selfie so I would remember that moment forever and ever. I gave a loud shout off the ridge, don’t ask me what noise I made, or what words came out, because I honestly don’t remember. I just remember the feeling of joy.

imageimage

This whole section was a lot of steep climbs to ridges that left you breathless. Up 1200′ down 1200′. The whole week felt like a rollercoaster. Winding in and out of forests to tops of ridgelines overlooking bright blue lakes. It was incredible. I have a deep respect for areas that make you earn their views. At the time I was cursing their name, but now, I love them for it. Trinity Alps Wilderness –> Russian Wilderness –> Marble Mountain Wilderness. A hell of a trio to cruise through and finish up the tallest state on the flippin’ planet. Averaging 29 miles a day, my blisters started to subside, my feet were no longer sore, and I started gaining a lot of rhythm, I was groovin’ my way to the state border!

imageimageimage

image

Indian Paintbrush, my favorite wildflower! State flower of?!?!? WYOMING!

Indian Paintbrush, my favorite wildflower! State flower of?!?!? WYOMING!

Aftet 100 miles I stopped in Etna for lunch. It’s known to be a hard hitch because there is no traffic on the road and the town is 13 miles away. After 45 minutes a car came by and the 8 of us jumped up and stuck out our thumbs. It was the only action of the hour! He stopped and Monique (NZ) and Bert (Belgium) squeezed in the back of his pick-up and fortunately, a much nicer vehicle stopped right after him and fit 4 of us in his truck. Etna is a tiny old mining town, I couldn’t wait to explore it’s character. I went to the café on the corner, got some lunch and then hit up the market because I was short a days worth of food. The same guy caught me as I was leaving the market and offered me a ride back up to the trail, score!

image

Bert is a tall fella, he did not enjoy this seat very much

Bert is a tall fella, he did not enjoy this seat very much

I hiked the rest of the day with Maui (known for hiking in board shorts) and Juice (electrical engineer). It was today where I met a lot of the people that I’d be surrounded by the next several days. It was a fun group, and it’s always good to get acquainted as quickly as possible because you pass each other so frequently throughout the day. Also, it’s nice to hear a “ohhhh WUDD-UP toe touch!” instead of more introductions. Familiar faces are a really, really, helpful sight out here. Any break from being inside my mind is welcomed, I’m starting to drive myself crazy. By the way if anyone has too many things to think about, let me know. Outsource your thoughts to me, you won’t regret it. I’ll report back with a thorough analysis.

I'm in the weeds!

I’m in the weeds!

Trail?

Trail?

No one actually needs water here, we just want to sit and hang

No one actually needs water here, we just want to sit and hang

Seiad (sigh-ad) Valley is a town of 350, and fun fact from Early Bird and the Worm (awesome couple from Manitoba), its own state. They are too cool for California so they decided to be the State of Jefferson. 51 states folks, we got 51 states! Seiad Valley is literally on the PCT, you leave the forest and walk 6.4 miles along a paved road and pick berries to keep you from wanting to kill yourself. You finally hit “town” and it’s one of the best feelings in the world. “Town” is a café, post office, and general store — all in the same building. It’s exactly how all of America should be in my opinion, need we more? After walking the road with Monique and Bert, I saw Early Bird and the Worm at the café and immediately sat down and ordered coffee. They had milkshakes and coffee and were awaiting their egg, bacon and pancake breakfasts. I couldn’t have been happier.

The paved PCT

The paved PCT

Blackberries and raspberries!

Blackberries and raspberries!

Early bird and the worm!

Early bird and the Worm!

The café is famous for its Pancake Challenge, 5 Pancakes, all 1lb. each. 5 pounds of Pancakes, does everyone else’s stomach hurt from the thought? No hiker has won the challenge in 8 years, and no human has completed it in 4. I love pancakes; if I knew I was going to die within the next 5 minutes I would probably order a tall stack and go out with a bang. CityTime has been talking about doing this challenge for the last 300 miles. His confidence was high, and although I wasn’t there to see it, he said he ate 3 out of the 5 pounds. He got to take the rest of the pancakes back to the RV park (3 steps away from the tri-building) and ate the rest for dinner. He was really proud of himself, but even seeing him the day after he was still rubbing his stomach and moaning. I remember working at the Bunnery and my friend was scraping off a customers plate and the pancakes just stuck to it when she flipped the plate upside down. She was like “look Jules, these things don’t even budge when I wave around the plate, can you imagine what they are doing to the inside of your stomach?” We shared a good laugh, and as I still enjoy a good pancake from time to time, I did not attempt the pancake challenge. No one else I knew did the challenge, but everyone ate themselves to sickness at that café. A bunch of hikers were just laying around too full to function, let alone hike. It was an all to familiar sight, but that’s part of the thru-hiking culture. We hike so much, and burn so many calories, that we cannot control ourselves when we get to town. When you have fresh food AND someone else cooking it for you, you tend to go all out. It’s one perk of this life for sure, being able to get away with eating a lot of junk in the short-term. But thinking about the long-term possible effects? Bad news bears.

imageimage

After breakfast I scooted over to the post office and received a couple packages and letters from family and friends! I got a few snacks for the road and hung out at the picnic tables with the other hikers. The climb out of Seiad Valley, ohhhhh the climb out of Seiad Valley. I heard about (and contributed to) it all week. 4,500′ in 8 miles, completely exposed. I think I was the only person looking forward to it. It was 2:30, 99 degrees, and as I packed up my stuff everybody looked at me like I was a lunatic. No one else planned to leave until at least 5:00. I couldn’t help myself, I was really excited for it and I’m not good at sitting around, so I left. It was a sick form of fun, I loved it. I cruised up the trail sweating more than I have all summer. I pitched my tent on a really windy ridge, being careful to pin down my stuff so none of it flew away. I knew the wind would die down with the sun, so I stuck it out. It was my last night in California and I wanted it to be epic.

Good thing it was partly cloudy!

Good thing it was partly cloudy!

imageimage

'Mornin'

Mornin’

26 miles to Oregon! You couldn’t get me there fast enough. I got to the border and saw Donna Saufley (a trail angel who runs Hiker Heaven way back in SoCal!) I stayed at her house back in April and it was cool to see her out here finishing up a large section of the trail! After a huge photo-shoot I hiked 4 more miles and celebrated Oregon with a boxed pie I picked up in Seiad Valley and a nip of vodka I’ve been carrying for quite some time. First sleep in Oregon!

imageimage

Donna Saufley! A trail angel legend!

Donna Saufley! A trail angel legend!

image

Oregon!

Oregon!

I woke up super early (for me). I was 25 miles from Ashland, the most anticipated trail town on my list. I was in such a good mood that I fired up some coffee as I packed my things, something I have only done 3 times all summer and WOW is hiking easier when fully caffienated. I had one sip and poured the rest in my Gatorade bottle for the road. 9 hours later, I took my final sip. Coffee over the course of 25 miles rules. It was 5:30am when hikers started passing my campsite, I was shouting “good morning, welcome to Oregon!” to all my friends who camped a mile or 2 back. You should have seen the gusto we all hiked with that day. There was about 8 of us, and we were flying. With 11 miles left there was a cooler of trail magic! All different flavors of soda that we dove into. We took a break, chugged down the carbonated goodness, and resumed our stride. We were all so happy and made it to the highway by 2:30pm. It was one of my favorite days on trail.

My fancy snobbish instant coffee that makes me FLY

My fancy snobbish instant coffee that makes me FLY

Water tied to a tree, don't mind if I do!

Water tied to a tree, don’t mind if I do!

Monique and Bert enjoying some cola!

Monique and Bert enjoying some cola! And chairs!

The hitch into Ashland took about 30 minutes, and it was a hot 30 minutes! Finally, Ray pulled over and completely reorganized his truck to fit me in. He was coming back from a camping trip and boy was he fully stocked. I sat in the passenger seat with my feet hoisted up on bags of rocks. Ray is a geologist and is in between projects, so he was out collecting rocks for fun. He even gave me a tour of Ashland before dropping me at the motel, which was awesome! I love getting a local tour, so many fun facts! That day I only had 2 energy bars to eat, it was the last of my food so you can say I probably didn’t pack enough. But it didn’t matter how hungry I was because Ray took me to all the parks and told me about lithia water and the Shakesspeare Festival and more fun facts about rocks. He even gave me his Geologist business card and told me to call him if I needed a ride anywhere around town. Basically, Ray is such a nice guy and offered to be my personal tour guide of Ashland for my short stay. Gosh I love the people I’ve met during this hike.

Lithia water fountains! So cool

Lithia water fountains! So cool

Southern Oregon University

Southern Oregon University

I have hit my rhythm and my body feels great, but I didn’t want to push my luck so I still took a zero (day-off) in Ashland. It’s been phenomenal. I walked downtown and went into every cafe, store, library, and market. I ate a ton of healthy food and a ton of butter. Perfect. Oregon is said to be a really fast section because it finally flattens out. I’ll be the judge of that. I just bought new shoes and only have 2 minor blisters to doctor up each morning. I have what I think is nerve damage in my right shoulder, it’s been in pain since May — only hurting when my pack is at a certain weight so I am really trying to keep it light, because well, it hurts. The shoulder pain is something I plan on getting checked out right after the trail, but it’s obviously been tolerable up until this point so I’ve just been doing what I can to not make it worse.

image

Life is good when your day ends at a lake

I am so excited for the state change, and I’m not alone. The entries in the trail register at the border all basically say the same thing…”California I love you, but enough already, can’t wait for Oregon!” That made me feel better because I felt guilty sometimes dreaming of Oregon while still hiking through California. “Love the one your with!” Right? hah anyways, the mosquitoes are raging here in Oregon but other than that I am 100% looking forward to the change in trail and all the stops along the way! Holy cow, I can’t believe I walked the length of California, who does that?

For everyone following closely along, here is an update on the Mile 55 Crew:

image

Spoon and Chuckles are still eating brunch where we last camped together, mile 968.4 – Smedberg Lake. Spoon is continuing to make his argument that the lake is in fact, Jewish, while Chuckles knows it’s probably true but plays devils advocate just for good conversation. They are on their 159th bowl of granola.

image

Centerfold has returned to Southern California after a major relapse in his Cactus Cooler addiction. Cactus Cooler is an orange-pineapple flavored soda found only in Southern California, and Centerfold has been the companies only customer this year after discovering it in a trail magic cooler in the desert. He also has a package at HikerTown that he needs to go back and grab, gosh, what a burden he was that day.

image

Camel has awkwardly configured his tall lean body to fit the only shade offered in Northern California. When not taking a nap on trail, you can find him in theatres across trail towns, watching Finding Dory for the 3rd, 4th, 5th….time.

image

Both Centerfolds and Camels ego have taken a major blow by not being able to catch the girl who was peeing blood. To gain back some grit, they are meeting each other back at Mile 55 where they will hike it one more time, totaling more PCT miles than anyone else on trail.

image

Clearly, I miss them a whole lot, but this solo experience has been an incredible growth period and I know, when the time is right, that I’ll hear our call from behind. And then hugs, lots of hugs. Maybe even one for Chuckles.

image

Okay fine seriously?

Spoon/Chuckles: 1 week behind

Centerfold: 3-4 days behind

Camel: a few hours behind (dun dun dunnnn)

“Soooo Why Are You Doing This?!?”

Day: 97

Location: Wassayaks Real Coffee Craft, Mt. Shasta, CA

Miles: 1,498.7 (so.close.)

Avocados: 40

Showers: 21

We get asked this question all the time. It starts with people asking where we started, where we’re going, and how long we’ve been out here. You feel like a celebrity most of the time, everyone is so interested and can’t believe they are talking to someone so crazy, someone who would actually WANT to hike from Mexico to Canada in one summer.

image

Then they ask why. Valid. I like to know people’s reasons myself, we all have one, and we all have a different one. The only time it bugs me is when they laugh as they ask the question. As if they have already established how much more sensible they are, how much more rational. I give them a quick answer and without really listening they laugh again and say they could NEVER do this. They call me crazy which I take as a compliment, I’ve never minded being called crazy (it happens often). They give their well wishes and are really genuine about it, and it usually leaves me all warm inside. Last week, in the midst of a really difficult time, it prompted me to think about it a bit more, and you know what I have time to do while hiking 14 hours a day? Think. It’s a thru-hikers best skill, find something arbitrary to obsess about. And if it means enough to us, blog about it.

image

Am I really THAT crazy? Am I crazy for pursuing my dream? Am I crazy for following my heart? Am I crazy for making the time to learn and grow by living in complete discomfort? Am I crazy for taking a risk and living out my passion for abnormal lifestyles? I love the challenge, I love the endurance, I love the people, I love the food creativity, I love how modern conveniences have turned into luxuries, I love living outdoors in the ever-changing elements. Does this all really make me crazy?

image

Continuing my pursuit to get adopted by the Brit Family Robinson III!!!

Continuing my pursuit to get adopted by the Brit Family Robinson III

You want to know what I think is crazy? Spending 40+ hours a week at a job you hate. Having your best friends and family right in front of you but staring at your phone screen instead. Not saying please or thank you. Not giving people more than one chance. Constantly justifying your actions with excuses. Comprising, any and all things. Planning every detail and continually trying to polish your life. Not acting on spontaneity. Using money as an excuse for not having any fun. Using money as an excuse for not seeing your friends. Using money as an excuse for not showing up. Spending all your time working just to maintain your material possessions. Not looking people in the eye. Not listening. Not paying attention. Not seizing every opportunity. You want to know what I think is crazy? Not releasing control and thus letting things come to you, welcoming the challenge and allowing the element of surprise to change you. As my dear and wonderfully weird friend Joy has told me, change is always good. You can do anything with the right attitude. You can live anywhere with the right attitude. Anything, and anywhere. Change is always good.

image

I guess I just see life as this finite piece of art. I am fully aware that at any moment my life can be shifted, and I won’t physically or mentally be able to live out my dreams. I would make new ones of course, but while I have my health, I want to do it all. This is our one shot, and I love seeing people follow the fire inside of them. We all have that one thing that lights us up, some suppress it, others let it guide them. We are our best selves when we follow that fire, benefiting the entire world. Spreading the joy through so many waves of people. Could you imagine? A world filled with people living their passions? Happy all the time? Wanting to do more, to be more? Optimal.

image

It was an emotional week, although I didn’t break-down until Laura Facetimed me. I texted her as I was hitchhiking on the interstate with “have you ever peed blood?” She immediately Facetimed me and once I explained it out loud I started crying. I had been alone with this condition for 3 days. I knew how scared I was, but I couldn’t fully let it stress me out because that would make it worse. So instead, I thought about why people think I’m so crazy for 3 days, clearly.

image

My week started wonderfully. I set myself up for what I called (working titles) “The Coffee Circuit” or “The Big Three.” I hiked out of Chester on Sunday afternoon for 13 miles, this lined me up for a mid-morning stop at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, in Lassen National Park (new National Park for me! Check!). Their dining hours are weird, and I didn’t need breakfast, my goal was just to see if they had any coffee left. They did, and I enjoyed it out on the patio with my apple. I also felt really inspired during this coffee break and made an outline of potential life goals I’d like to pursue. They were flooding in, and I hashed them out on the rest of the hike. During the hike I heard a noise to my left and it was the cutest bear pawing at a tree. I said hello and kept moving.

image

The next day I planned my mid-morning stop at JJ’s Cafe in Old Station. My goal was eggs, bacon, and coffee. Nailed it. There was also a hiker box inside and I scored 2 more dinners (which I needed to finish the week) and some more snacks (which I always need). It was a phenomenal stop. After breakfast, I began a 33 mile waterless stretch that I didn’t give much thought to. I just filled up with 3 liters and got to hiking. It was hot, dry, exposed, and dead. I was surrounded by dead burnt things. The ridge was covered in volcanic rock that came out of the ground a half inch further than what we are used to so I was constantly tripping. Always frustrating. The view was really nice, but it didn’t matter, the second you picked up your head was the second you were eating dirt.

imageimageimageimage

The next day I saw Slow-mo (real name unknown) and her husband (trail name forgotten) and we both agreed it was probably the worst day on the PCT. We did not enjoy it. It was funny because Slow-mo is in her 50’s and is never shy to moan and groan whenever she moves and exclaims “DON’T GET OLD.” They both wear binoculars and are logging all the bird sounds from Mexico to Canada. They are kind of like the Wild Thornberries. They are total bird people, so hearing Slow-mo go off on a tangent saying how much Hat Creek Rim EFFING SUCKED, was all around hilarious. Whenever we leave places at the same time they always yell, “you go first because we are SOOO SLOWWWW..DON’T GET OLDDDD” They rule.

image

The third day my goal was Burney Guest Ranch. This was the best day. I got there around 11am and Linda greeted me warmly. I sat on the porch and felt right at home. I was the only hiker there at the time. She brewed me delicious coffee and let me charge my phone. She would have made me food if I asked. She had a refrigerator of food and drinks for hikers and an envelope for payment, total honor system. We sat and talked for 2 hours. At one point she brought out homemade strawberry ice cream! And then she gave me a bag of homemade cookies to take with me. Times like those are what the PCT is all about for me. Sitting and chatting with the locals, exchanging stories, really listening. It was so valuable, at a time when doubts have been creeping in and at a time when I am missing home more than ever, Linda saves the day!

imageimageimage

I left the guest ranch and a mile later I came across trail magic! It was great, I was feeling really spoiled. 10 miles later was Burney Falls, another fun stop of the day. After that I hiked until about 8pm. A mile before I set up camp I went off-trail to Upper Jake Spring to fill up on water. The spring was a trickle and the mosquitoes were incredibly annoying. I just squatted there, watching my water bottle fill up at an astronomically slow rate and let the mosquitoes bite me. I didn’t want to swat at them and risk dropping my water bottle, not after all the patience I’ve put in! I couldn’t wait to get out of there, so much that I forget my Z-lite (sleeping pad). I left it right next to the spring. That night I laid out all my clothes and found comfort sleeping on a garbage bag. The next day I started my morning hiking South. Never fun. I saw Stoic and passed him while yelling “IM GOIN TO MEXICO!” “I woke up this morning, ditched my pack, and said hell with it, IM GOIN BACK TO MEXICO!” If he wasn’t quite awake yet, now he was.

imageimage

Burney Falls

Burney Falls

sleeping on my clothes on a garbage bag

sleeping on my clothes on a garbage bag

It was that morning when I first realized I was peeing blood. It felt weird so I looked to see the shade of yellow, figured it’d be dark and I’d need to do some major water chugging. Nope, red. Ah!!!! WHAT!!! At this point I was 2.5 days from the town of Mt. Shasta, 75 miles. What do I do? Backtrack 20 miles to the town of Burney? Nooooo, that doesn’t sound like fun. Keep north, keep north. I’m clearly dying, but let’s keep hiking north and thus further limiting my options for potential rescue. Smart, Jules.

I was pretty scared all day, it was really uncomfortable and the urgency was unreal. That night when I bent over to put my stakes in, I peed my pants. Shit was getting real. I figured it was a UTI, and thought I’d probably have to go to the doctor. That night I slept well for whatever reason, because I went to bed thinking about all the internal bleeding and figured it had a good shot at getting worse. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, and they were answered. It didn’t get worse, I didn’t acquire any new symptoms, but I kept peeing red.

image

I hiked 33 miles on Friday so I could get into town by noon the next day. This is when I was finally able to google what this all meant and ask friends and family if they had any answers for me. The overwhelming majority of them told me to go get it checked out. I showered, loaded up on probiotics, and went to the ER. I sat there for 5 hours. Heck of a Saturday night! I finally asked them for food and this is what they brought me.

image

I was diagnosed with Hematuria, a bladder infection? A kidney infection? A UTI? I don’t know, the doctor was very vague despite all my questions. He was confused because I didn’t have any other symptoms, no burning, no back pain, no aches and pains. He told me to watch out for Kidney stones, and gave me a prescription for antibiotics. I went to Taco Bell, got the POWER Cantina Bowl (taco salad), and was given the Senior Discount. As terrible as that day was, I felt really relieved that it wasn’t something worse.

ER selfie!

ER selfie!

I haven’t peed blood in a whole day, feeling good about it. But what is keeping me off-trail is my feet. They are tortured. I have 3 huge blisters on each foot, the worst ones being bubbles underneath my toes. On top of that my feet are just sore. I don’t blame them, I pushed it hard this month, they deserve this break. The last 3 nights I woke up to them throbbing, and combined with the whole peeing red thing, I realized my body is trying to tell me something. Don’t worry guys, I’m listening, and am taking care of it! Also a good mental break for me, giving me time to miss the trail (doesn’t take much  👍) and just really reflect on the past couple of weeks. How marvelous they were, how tough they were, how impactful they were. Feeling really blessed for each moment, and feeling really excited to be able to walk again, because there’s a brewery in 100 miles that’s calling my name! And there’s only one way to get there…

imageimageimage

Backcountry Blister Popping Party!

Backcountry Blister Popping Party!

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.

image

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?!?

image

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.

imageimageimage

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.

imageimageimage

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

image

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.

image

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.

image

imageimage

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.

imageimage

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.

image

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!

image

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!

image

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.

image

image

image

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.

image

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!

image

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).

image

image

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.

image

image

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…

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

“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.

image

image

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!

image

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’

 

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.

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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.

image

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.

image

image

image

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

image

North Island — Part 2

Back on the sheepskin couch.

I was fortunate enough to have a 12 hour delay in Australia, I seriously mean that. This gave me plentyyyy of time to search the Internet for all things New Zealand. I came across a listing in a backpackers forum for volunteers needed. I didn’t really understand the job but what I did understand was that I would be fed and housed for a week, so I inquired.

The volunteering was to take place in Te Urewera National Park. Ask any of the locals and they’ve never heard of it, despite it being quite large. It can be found in the north central region of the North Island, about 5 hours East of Auckland. It’s got a ton of Mauri roots and was told that in 5 years time the land will be given back to the Mauris, and no longer be a National Park. Whether this information is true or not, I am not responsible.

View From the Chopper

There were about 20 volunteers, and 8 of us got helicoptered to a remote hut about 19 kilometers in. The hut was cozy, but was occupied by more mice than humans. We split up into teams of 4, 3 volunteers and 1 Ranger. Our job was to set Stoat (weasel looking things) Traps, you know, to kill the stoats and possums. You see, these stoats are not native to NZ and were introduced from Australia awhile back and are killing the native birds. Totally screwed up. They have no predators and do as they please, eating Kiwi eggs for breakfast in order to fuel up for their tree killing sprees in the afternoon — all the while, feeling not one ounce of remorse. Damn stoats. I felt good about being part of the killing force, I’ll do anything to save a tree!

Home, slept 6 but we had 8 people. So 2 slept outside haha

 

The traps we set averaged at 40lbs, and we strapped them to our backs. We hiked 12 hours and laid about 30 traps each day, per team of 4. The Te Ureweras is not your everyday Yosemite, these “trails” were not maintained, meaning we had a GPS and bushwhacked our way through the forest looking for the drop sites. We’d mostly be on our hands and knees crawling up mossy slopes hoping each step would hold. The huge horizontal box rattling on your back didn’t help much. It would have been nice to see a view after climbing all day but the canopy was so rich you couldn’t see out. We were in deep, we heard only the birds, and it was a completely enriching experience. I welcomed it all, I loved it. Even the 27 river crossings a day. In fact, on the very FIRST river crossing of the very FIRST 5 minutes of work, I tried to stay dry (my toes were still numb from the night before) and rock hopped. I SLAMMED my tailbone on the rock. It hurt pretty bad, but I was wet and cold and it was 7am and I knew it wasn’t broken, so I got up and promised myself to never rock hop again. Besides, you aren’t having any fun if your boots are dry! And they weren’t, ever, until Sunday.

  

The legend, and a bunch of rope

Both groups stayed at the same Hut and we would cook dinner and hang out at night. We all got along great and had a lot of good laughs. Most people were from Auckland area and it was fun chatting with them. The leader of my group was a legend by the name of Jinx. He is probably early 50’s, thin build, but has more strength and stamina then I’ve seen in anyone of youth. He doesn’t even drink water. Since we were in the bush for 12 hours, everyone was quite outgoing with how much food they were packing, 2/3 sandwiches, 8 pieces of fruit, 2 bags of gorp (oh I’m sorry kiwis, Scroggin!), 12 bags of fruit snacks, huge chocolate bars, and of course a watermelon. But jinx? Nah, he threw in a 3litre bottle of fruit juice and a handful of random packaged snacks. He didn’t even look to see what he packed, he literally reached down into a food bin and whatever was in his hand, was his fuel for the day. It was inspirational, in a weird and twisted way. Every time we’d stop for a snack or lunch he didn’t eat anything, he’d just smile and say “all good!” And keep moving. He didn’t say much, but that didn’t stop me from learning an abundance from him. Just the way he worked, his attitude, his patience, his perfection, and his complete disregard for nutrients while maintaining the same amount of extreme stamina throughout the whole day. My favorite Jinx moment was on our hike back to the Hut the first day. We got caught in the dark and saw glowing possum eyes, Jinx sees it and goes “oh yeah, Possum?” Takes the Pick Mattock and chops its head off in 2 swings. It squeals first, an awful high pitched screech, and then nothing. He took the glow right out of those eyeballs. “I don’t like doing it, it doesn’t make me feel like a man, but if it’ll save a tree…”

They failed to mention to us that yes, we’d be helicoptered in, but no, we wouldn’t be helicoptered out. Although not a strenuous hike, it was long and it was through the river, so I bet before I left I was gonna lose an ankle during one of the crossings. I lost that bet, thank goodness.  

 During the hike out I invited the 2 other American guys to join me for the weekend, I was going up to the Coromandels and would love some hiking and camping buddies. They jumped at the invite (they’ve been hitchhiking). They ended up staying with me and the wagon for a whole week, and all the way down to Wellington. We camped for free every night (except one where we stayed with a wonderful couple that Nate knew) and we did a lot of tough hikes. Although, we did have one beach day, that was nice.  

  

 

I learned a ton from Nate and Kyle, and it really shaped the way I have been taking on the South Island. I can’t believe I used to pay for campsites! Now my stomach drops if I have to pay, it’s the worst. We got along really well and it was wonderful having people to chat with at dinner and guys to take on the days with. It’s exactly what I needed, and what I wanted. I could do a whole blog post just on that week. So many stories, so many adventures. What a time.