Proud.

2,658 Miles            159 Days          36 Showers         57 Avocados      

489,418′ Elevation Gain

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“If you’ve done it right you’ll love where you are”

Note: I formatted the pictures to be upright on a desktop. This is a long post, if you have a desktop I recommend reading this on there. It won’t look so unkempt. Although, I’m sure no matter what you do they will still be upside down. Good grief. Care about you!

Want to know a secret? I have been jotting down notes for this blog post since July. Whenever I would get a deep emotional thought, I would type it in my notes really quickly. Looking back at all of my brainstorming I can’t help but laugh. I never stopped to type these things in my phone, so I remember tripping over rocks and roots just trying to secure this INCREDIBLE thought before it was forgotten. Nothing in there makes sense, but it brings back a wave of lovely memories.

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All done!

All done!

I have been home in New York for a month. More specifically, Hopewell Junction, Home of the Honey Baked Ham! Jokes about this Honey Baked Ham got me through some dull times on the trail, so I couldn’t end this all without re-mentioning this self-appointed hometown lore.

Too early in the season to be advertising for the specific "Honey-Baked" yet.

Too early in the season to be advertising for the specific “Honey-Baked” yet.

My transition from on-trail to off-trail has been tough, but I saw it all coming. One of the reasons I was hesitant to attempt the PCT is because of the withdrawal I knew I would experience afterwards. I was nervous for the reintegration, the void, the shift in perspective, feeling different etc. When I was able to let go of that fear and convince myself that without a doubt, the journey would be worth all the difficulties encountered when I was back home, I was able to fully commit myself. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so excited about anything than in February and March when I was planning for the PCT. I talked about it all day long. It didn’t matter if people wanted to hear about it, or if I even knew the person for more than 25 seconds, I still filled them in on the latest. I remember hiding in the beer cage at work reading gear reviews on down jackets. “Oh, you want some more coffee sir? I’m sorry it’s going to have to wait, I am in the middle of finding the lightest and most cost-efficient umbrella that I will carry for 5 months but won’t use until the very last day of my hike.” Life was so good those last 2 months in Jackson, so good. My energy and enthusiasm about the hike were the telling indicators that I was doing exactly what I was suppose to be doing. I have never followed my heart so surely.

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Physically, my body has fired back with a lot of rebellion this past month. After 5+ months of feeding it truck load after truck load of endorphins, I suddenly stopped. I became an adrenaline junkie this summer, and it was all too real. I was never tired during the day when I would be out hiking. Between the movement, the challenge, the air quality, the pure water, the ridges, the views, the fords, the snow, the trees, the animals, the community  — I was riding a high that was unsustainable, and I knew it.

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Day 2 post-trail I began to eat healthy. Basically, once my sister flew back to San Francisco and stopped feeding me donuts, bagels, and fish and chips. I thought I had it all figured out, I would detox! I would clean my body of all the processed instant junk I’ve been feeding it all summer, I’ll feel GREAT! Well, the last 2 nights in Vancouver I stayed with Richard and Jean, remember them from Crater Lake? I always knew there was a reason a wildfire erupted and caused me to hitch a ride around the rim. Meeting them was that reason. They welcomed me into their home, cooked amazing dinners and told me all about life in Vancouver. They are heroes.

The morning after.

The morning after.

Richard and Jean!

Richard and Jean!

I remember the last night with them I actually said the words, “I’m sorry guys, but I’m feeling pretty tired, this is weird.” It was around 8:00 and it was a tired I hadn’t experienced in a really long time, it was a normal sort of tired. You know, the tired you feel after work. It was that moment when things started going south for me.

I flew home the next day and began my sleeping expedition. My dad picked me up at La Guardia and with the amount of traffic and apparent “idiots,” as my dad calls them, it was a rude realization that I was back in New York. I felt sick from all the beeping and lights and stop and go traffic. Bless his heart for having to do that ALL the time, with his 3 daughters living on the West Coast, Bob is the family chauffeur and we all could not be more grateful for him. I got home and my mom gave me the biggest hug she has ever given me. She actually held on to it for as long as possible. I suppose she was a bit worried this summer. I inhaled the lasagna she made, devoured some ice cream with peanut butter and began my hibernation.

Sleep. It’s all my body wanted. It was time to heal and repair, and that was only going to happen if I was asleep. It was unreal. Easily 12 hours a night, sometimes 14-15. I sleep like a needle, surrounded by 5 huge pillows I want nothing to do with and only use one ratty old one, thinner than a crepe. Comfortable, I am so unbelievably comfortable. During the day I would be in a fog, just wanting to sleep more. I began to exercise right away, working on my strength and going out for little shake-out runs. I felt pretty miserable. I continued to eat healthy until healthy food became nauseating. I no longer wanted it, couldn’t stand the sight or thought of it. No more eggs, broccoli, bananas, avocados, no more. If I DID have an appetite, it would be for clif bars and frozen pizza. Instant noodles perhaps? I had a terrible headache all day long, would throw up if I ate the wrong thing, and not to be outdone by everything else going wrong, I had the shits.

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I now realize my mistake. I dove into it all too fast. Too clean, too fast. I should have slowly reintegrated those foods into my diet throughout the course of a month. Here I am thinking I am doing myself the biggest favor, honoring my body and trying to level out the nutrient playing field, but instead I shocked it, and it rebelled big time. What I should of done was cook up some fresh veggies and put them in the middle of 2 clif bars. A sandwich. Balance.

My favorite 2 words

My favorite 2 words

2 weeks later I finally started feeling better, and also finally started to break some bad trail habits. No more candy in bed, toe touch. Yes, it is undesirable, but also completely unnecessary. I am currently doing a lot of strength work and doing little cardio. When I do do cardio, it is speed work. I’ll be out for a casual run and start sprinting, or I’ll find a hill and start doing repeats. I am tapping back into an energy system that I had completely neglected for 6 months. It feels really good.

The mental side of reintegration is the harder one to cope with. The physical stuff left me fascinated. I love listening to my body and monitoring how every little thing makes me feel. I had never felt that way before so it was all new and exciting, even though I felt like garbage. The mental side of things began 2 weeks after the trail. I began to feel “the void,” and longed for the trail life. I was very unmotivated, very low energy, very distant. This is not the person I want to be, and not the person my parents deserve to live with. I was a bum. I hated it.

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I fought and fought the internal battles trying to break the cycle and snap out of it. Perspective always, always helps. I thought about how lucky I am to have a house and parents that welcomed me back in. I thought about how many people are in debt after the trail and couch surf until they find a job. I thought about my friends who went back to SF and back to the corporate world, a completely different reentry than mine, but our transitional difficulties both the same. And of course, I think about how many people don’t have a home at all, are starving, and wake up to a shower of bombs everyday. Yes, I usually always go there. Perspective. Gratitude. Toe Touch.

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Now that this roller-coaster ride seems to be on its last couple of turns, I am feeling much better. I am a much more relaxed person when it comes to most things. I actually enjoy getting stuck behind school busses because I love the enthusiasm the kids have when they run off the bus, I have a lot more patience for things I cannot control, I treat my body with a much higher level of grace, I am the slowest driver in the world, I smile and say hello to everyone (particularly people who are wearing their bad day on their face) and I definitely don’t have the “it’s the end of the world” mentality. I have been through far too much to complain about anything material now. Life is difficult without that direct purpose we were so used to out on the trail. You wake up and know exactly what you had (wanted) to do, and you made progress towards your goals everyday. That is a really significant feeling to lose hold of and to suddenly replace it with empty days. You fall in love with no one particular thing out there, you fall in love with everything. Then one day, it’s all gone. That’s where the void can eat you alive if you let it.

What helped me through this past month was movement, catching up with friends, and staying focused on my goals. It was tough coming back home after the PCT and starting from scratch. If I had returned to my pre-trail life in Jackson, I know it would have been a much easier transition. But I also would have been sucked back into the beautiful Peter Pan vortex of Jackson Hole and probably would have kept pushing everything back a season, a year, a few years. Boy do I miss that town.

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A popular question I get asked is how I dealt with the boredom. This is also one of the main reasons I thought I could never thru-hike, I pictured myself quitting because of the long days, and even longer weeks. Turns out, rhythm played an important role. I had my system, my routine, and after the first day back on trail, I gained my momentum and was able to enjoy it all. Oregon and Washington were the hardest for me. Oregon because there’s not much climbing and not much to look at, and Washington only because I was 4 months in and even though it was challenging and rewarding, I wanted nothing more to do with myself. I could have thrown my mind off a cliff and not cared too much.

Other than singing songs in my head (scroll down to read the list of “most songs sung in toe touches tiny little brain”), I would think about what I could do for other people. Before I went off-trail for Lauras bachelorette party in Montana, Kelly told me I was in charge of cooking one brunch. Literally, for 300 miles, I would allow myself to brainstorm the brunch for 2 hours each day. That was fun for me. I ended up scrambling eggs, slicing avocados, and making a cinnamon roll french toast casserole, if you were wondering. But the most helpful tactic I used was devising plans to surprise my friends with weird stuff along the trail. It all started when I sent Spoon a Screech shirt to Kennedy Meadows. He was so confused and had no idea where it came from. First he credited his dad, then his best friend from back home. It wasn’t suppose to be a surprise, but he was so happy about it that I decided to let his mind wander — essentially doing him a big favor, now he could think about who sent him this shirt for the next couple hundreds miles – how thoughtful of me!

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After that experience, I sent Centerfold a Straight Outta Cactus Cooler shirt to Yosemite. It was sleeveless and over-sized of course, and the content completely making fun of his addiction to the soda. After that I had gone ahead of my friends, but decided to keep it up. I hit Chuckles next, with a shirt that was sure to blow my cover, but I loved it so much I sent it to her anyways. It was maroon, 100% heavy cotton and read, “Every Brunette Needs a Blonde Best Friend.” If you haven’t picked up on our abnormal friendship yet, Chuckles gives me a lot of grief for being a tall blonde. One Halloween I was Daphne and she was Velma (also of note, her husband Spoon was Rosie the Riveter that year). I had to capitalize on this shirt opportunity.

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Lastly I made Camel a shirt. As much time as I spent googling “T-shirts with pipe gates on them,” my search results came up empty. Camel has an obsession with pipe gates, which in turn became a Mile 55 obsession with pipe gates. We walked through so many in the desert that at night we would replay the squeakiest ones for all of the world to hear. As we hiked we would play the game “What does the pipe gate say?!?” “EEEEEeeeeEEEEeEeeEEEEeEEEeE.” It was a game meant to wake you back up. Worked every time. So, I made a shirt for Camel with a picture of a pipe gate that we walked through at Mile 555.55, I kid you not. Go hike the PCT and tell me there is NOT a pipe gate at that mile. I dare you. Funny part is, they are all just realizing now that I was the secret sender. Whatta buncha ding dongs huh!

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I also had 2 friends get married on the trail and they ended up a couple weeks behind me, so I would think about how I could surprise them with gift cards at the town bakeries, or hidden messages of congratulations in trees. Point being, if you are ever having a hard time, do something for someone else. Get out of your own head, and do something funny or thoughtful for a friend or stranger. If it works while hiking hundreds of miles in an underwhelming green tunnel, it can work to brighten up a morning or 2.

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Sometimes I wonder how I hiked the whole thing. I mean I had little to no experience with any of my gear. I had 2 straps on my backpack that swung around loosely all summer. It wasn’t until Washington when I realized they probably are there for a purpose. There are also strings all over my rain fly to my tent that I have no idea what they are for. Again, I just let them hang out. You can’t control a lot of what happens out there, but you do get to choose your attitude to it all. You get to choose how to react in the hard times, and how much enthusiasm you are going to greet each day with. One big fear of mine going into this trail was if I would start to feel like I was wasting my time. I love helping others, and I was scared I would get to a point where I would feel selfish, where I would start to feel like I wasn’t making a difference anywhere.

My biggest takeaway from this journey has been how untrue that really was. I have never felt more looked upon, more important in my whole life, and I owe that all to my friends and family. Through my photos and this blog, I actually became more connected with people than I ever thought I could be. This trail has enriched all of my friendships from back home, and I have never felt closer to all of them. I received so many packages and letters of love, encouragement and support, some of which came from people I haven’t seen in years. My friend Danika, who was my roommate in Australia for a semester, wrote and recorded a song for me. Naturally, I listened to it before bed one night in Washington and cried myself to sleep in thankfulness. It’s the off-trail beauty that I love to think about the most. How many connections I made while hitch-hiking, while sitting next to a Marty at the breakfast counter, while running through the grocery stores loading up on energy bars and avocados. The trail town community, the on-trail community, and the off-trail community have all surpassed my predictions wildly. I couldn’t have asked for a better batch of relationships, both new and reclaimed. My life has been enriched because of all of you. All of you weirdos, I should say. God I’m so lucky. (only a few pictured).

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“Soooo, how WAS it?!?!” — the most frequently asked question. I get it, I would ask the same thing initially. Some people dive deeper into it, others let you give a quick answer and then change subjects so fast you forgot you just got back from the journey of a lifetime. I guess my answer has been “amazing, incredible, phenomenal, the BEST thing I have ever done with my time.” I don’t expect people to get it. No one will understand it unless they have done it themselves, and that’s more than okay. I don’t understand a lot of what other people do, so I would never expect someone to geek out on this adventure as much as I do.

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But seriously, how do you explain the landscape of the desert? Hiking 700 miles in an environment brand new to you? Adjusting your body to the weight of a pack with 5 days of food and 7 liters of water in it? Being completely water-insecure and always praying the next source isn’t dried up? How do you explain drinking green horse water or scraping at stagnant shallow puddles trying to avoid the bugs and then sitting in the extreme heat filtering it one half liter at a time? Going to bed every night hopeful nothing is poking a hole in your gear, and hoping not to step on a rattlesnake when you get up to pee for the 5th time? How do you explain walking through underpasses, over highways, losing footing up the sandy, windy climbs, and trying effortlessly not to let the wind turbines drive you crazy? Always dehydrated, always avoiding lizards, always in awe of how much better this is than what you expected. Always caught off-guard by the harsh unrelenting beauty of the desert.

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How do you explain the tenacity required for the Sierra? Waking up at 4am, putting on every layer you own, navigating your way across, up and down miles and miles worth of snowfields? Climbing straight up icy walls because that’s where the boot-pack leads, and without the boot-pack, you’d still be lost out there. How do you explain reaching the top of a mountain and knowing that one false step, or one act of bad luck will send you tumbling down towards the ice covered lake at the bottom? Fording rivers so intense that it is a miracle you got across it, but leaves you sick with worry about your friends who are a couple days behind you. How do you explain the temperature fluctuations your body has to adapt to by freezing your butt off every morning and every night, but are left to hiking in shorts and a t-shirt during the day? How do you explain constantly taking inventory of your food in your head, scared to death you didn’t bring enough, constantly rationing everything you have, scared to death you’d let yourself down with the challenge you created? What about the feeling of looking across an expansive landscape topped with snow-capped mountains, turquoise frozen lakes, and not a soul in sight? The feeling of being so small, so simple, but so inspired at the same time. The Sierra: completely untouched, not over-hyped, the most beautiful stretch of land I know I will ever experience. How do you go about explaining it?

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How do you explain Northern California? The mosquitoes who suck you dry? The wonderous rockwork in Yosemite, the sparkling lakes of Tahoe? How do you explain the last 500 miles before Oregon? Steep, dry, dusty, difficult. How do you explain the mountain lions, the bears, the snakes, the hilariously dumb deer? How do you explain the doubt associated with this section? The high drop-out rate? Constantly wondering what you’re still doing out here? How about the feelings of being self-absorbed, not helpful, and second guessing your investment in yourself? Increasing your daily mileage, hours spent hiking, taking less time off, putting your body through complete turmoil, the shin splints, hiking 30 miles, going to sleep and then waking up and hiking 31 miles. How do you explain that?

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How do you explain the relief of Oregon? Finally entering a new state after 1,689 miles. Entering a new state warned with blow-downs, ferocious mosquitoes, flat land, sandy forests, burn zones, but marvelous trail-side lakes, fresh berries, and an incredible community. But how do you explain the boredom?  The foot pain? The hiker hobble? The lava fields? The relentless pursuit of Mt. Hood? Timberline Lodge? The breakfast buffet? The whiskey bar? How do you explain being completely reliant on every town and lodge stop because hiking just isn’t fun right now, how do you explain that? How do you keep going?

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How do you explain the glory of Washington. Starting at the lowest point on the entire trail and literally climbing into a state of huge ups and downs. How do you explain the daily elevation gain? The miracle of the Goat Rocks? The quiet of the old-growth forests? The community of Trout Lake? The excitement of seeing the red roof of the Snoqualmie Pancake House for a full mile before you get there? The relief of a roof after 5 wet days in the wilderness? The love of a hot cup of coffee? The comfort of hiker friends, both old and new? How do you explain the feeling of both wanting it to be over and never, ever, wanting it to end? How do you explain the emotion the rain brings, the cold brings, the snow brings. The emotion the changing of the leaves provides, the crisp change in the air, the realization you have hiked into your third season. The realization that you are almost in Canada and absolutely nothing is going to stop you from getting there. How do you explain that will? That determination? That fulfillment?

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How do you explain crossing the border and walking into Canada. You can’t explain it unless you try and explain how you got there. So I guess you just pick a rainy day, brew some coffee, and type away at a computer screen. You just might be able to explain it better than you ever thought. And if you’re really lucky, you have people in your life who are still listening.

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I just hiked from Mexico to Canada. In my mind, that is the coolest thing in the world.

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A huge thank you to everyone who followed along, stayed curious, listened, asked, and made me feel really special. My goal in life is to inspire others to try new things, jump out of their comfort zone, travel, adventure, and to overall, be good people. I have gained so much inspiration from all of our relationships, and I only hope I was able to give a little bit of that back to you.

As a cashier in Oregon told me in mid-August…

“Wow, your parents must be really proud of you. But more importantly, I hope you are really proud of yourself.”

Toe Touch: OUT!

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You have to be able to master your own mind, but when you can’t, you let songs play over…and over…and over…here are the top songs that just didn’t seem to GO AWAY all summer.

In no particular order of frequency…

  1. Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi)NorCal
  2. Don’t Look Down  (Martin Garrix) –  Sierra
  3. World on Fire (Kenny Chesney)Washington
  4. Closer (Chainsmokers)Washington
  5. Centerfold (J. Geils Band) Desert
  6. Are We Out of the Woods (T-Swift) All the time
  7. Need the Sun to Break (James Bay)Every Morning
  8. It Don’t Hurt Like it Used To (Billy Currington) – Washington
  9. I Would Walk 500 Miles (Kenny And The Scots)Every 100 miles
  10. Umbrella (Rihanna) Washington
  11. May We All (Florida Georgia Line) Oregon
  12. This Too Shall Pass (Mangas Colorado)All the time
  13. 80’s Mercedes (Maren Morris)Oregon
  14. Love On Top (Beyonce)All the time
  15. Have you Ever Seen the Rain (Creedence Clearwater) – Washington
  16. Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater) Desert
  17. One Grain of Sand (Ron Pope) Washington
  18. Independent Women (Destiny Child) NorCal
  19. Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)All the time
  20. Spirits (The Strumbellas)All the time
  21. Get Out While You Can (James Bay) – Last day of every section
  22. Lollipop (The Chordettes)Desert
  23. Skeletons (W. Darling)Sierra
  24. America’s Sweetheart (Elle King) – Always when I was covered in dirt
  25. Talkin’ Bout a Revolution (Tracy Chapman)All the time
  26. Morning Comes (Delta Rae)All the time
  27. Rescue (Rayvon Owen)Oregon

September.

Day: 147

Mile: 2,390.6

Location: Snoqualmie Pass, Washington

Avocados: 54 (they’re expensive up here!)

Showers: 33

“It’s the hard parts that make it so great.” Right? RIGHT?!?!

Could have used a rain jacket. Could have used some rain paints. Could have used an extra set of extremities.

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When buying gear for this hike I looked into many rain jackets and noticed a theme: the more expensive the jacket, the worse the reviews. I gave up and told myself I’d buy a rain jacket when I got closer to the Northwest. Never got around to it. Oops.

I joined the Warriors for pizza on our last night in Packwood and I listened to their stories on the lovely topic of “the coldest you’ve ever been.” This proved to be an extremely helpful pizza party because this week I was really cold, but not even close to what those guys have been through, thus telling myself “you’ll be fine” more easily and actually believing it. I got back on trail Tuesday around noon. A trail angel named Holly gave me a ride back to the trailhead. Holly was in town shuttling hikers back and forth and thus gaining first-hand info from us to use towards her thruhike next year (excellent research strategy). Tons of enthusiasm that Holly, she was awesome.

How many thruhikers does it take to perform a common household chore?

How many thruhikers does it take to perform a common household chore? SOMEONE CLOSE THE BLIND, I CANT SEEEEE

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I had quite a heavy pack this time. I had 100 miles to hike and with the increasing elevation gain, colder temps, and bad weather, I needed more food. I also wasn’t sure how fast I was going to go, so instead of packing for 3 nights, I grabbed some pathetic looking oats from the hiker box in case I needed 4 nights to get to Snoqualmie. Unfortunately my pack didn’t get much lighter as I ate the food because with the rainy weather all my gear became water-logged.

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Anybody lose their frying pans?

It was cloudy out, but it stayed dry as I hiked 20 miles to camp. As I set up my tent in a tiny opening in a cluster of trees, it began to rain. Got really lucky with that one! It rained the rest of the night but all my stuff stayed dry so the morning wasn’t too terrible.

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I left a few notes on the trees outside my tent for the Warriors to see in the morning. As I was shuffling around my tent I heard Rant and so he came over to chat for a bit. He hiked ahead as I finally got myself to get out of my tent and take it down. There is nothing worse than taking down a wet tent when you can’t feel your hands. Nothing.

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I caught up to Rant a few miles later and we hiked to Chinook Pass together. He and the Warriors are on the Combat War Vets sponsored hike so they had a meeting at the VFW in a town off Chinook Pass. At this point it was wet, cold, and really hopeless looking. I considered hitching into a town and waiting out the worst of the rain, and then realized if I did that I wouldn’t finish this trail until 2017. So as Rant hitched into town for a hot cocoa, burger, and shelter, I hiked up Crystal Mountain and was rewarded with no view. But first, I took a picture of Rant taking his weekly selfie.

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The rest of the day was actually pretty okay. Intermittent showers. Whenever it WASN’T raining I was so hopeful. I was so happy. I was so confident. Hiking was fun! Then it would start raining 5 minutes later and I would consider eating the red berries for a quicker death. Sounds extreme, but don’t say the weather hasn’t ever had an immediate impact on your mood.

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The last 2 hours of the day it stopped raining and I was so grateful. I hiked until 7, pulled my wet tent out of my outside pocket, and set it up. Bad news, the whole tent was soaked. In a frenzy that morning I rolled the wetness into itself, now the whole inside was drenched. I didn’t have anything dry to wipe it down with (I forgot to pack out my beach towel) so I took a semi-dry bandana and gave it my all. I then laid out a garbage bag and a few other semi-dry items and topped it with my sleeping pad. I mistakenly threw in my soaking wet backpack inside my tent down towards my feet (like I always do, because it’s always been dry). It was a rough night. It didn’t rain tooooo badly, but it was so damp inside my tent that in the middle of the night I woke up to boil water. Another phrase I’ll never use lightly again is “chilled to the bone.” I was chilled to the bone. I wasn’t surprised though, I was sleeping inside a wet tent, in a damp sleeping bag, with my feet resting on a soaking wet pack. I also had to watch every movement because everything surrounding my sleeping pad was wet, there was no time for trail nightmares tonight toe touch! If you even as much as SKIM the wall of your tent you’ll die of hypothermia! Die!

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So where are we? Oh yes, 2:30Am. I boiled water, poured it into my water bottle, and threw it in my sleeping bag for my feet to play around with. It was heaven. I had a handful of almonds to aid in the warming process and fell back asleep. I woke up, stared at my wet ceiling, and geared myself up for another day. You know what the worst sequence of events is?

1. Sitting up

2. Changing from dry clothes into wet clothes

3. Putting on heavy, sopping socks

4. Putting on soaked sneaks

5. Taking the first step in your wet gear

6. Unbuckling your rain fly when you can’t feel your hands (I’ll save you the rant)

7. Handling your metal tent poles when you can’t feel your hands

8. Shoving your wet tent in your wet bag

9. Realizing you haven’t even pooped yet

The most difficult part of the week was knowing it was projected to get worse and worse. Wednesday was not suppose to rain until the evening. Thursday was suppose to be on and off. But Friday? Friday was suppose to rain, and then rain some more. Saturday was the light at the end of the tunnel, cold and rainy morning, but possible sun if you stick it out that long to experience it.

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Back to sleeping like a mummy!

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I woke up Friday ready and excited for a wet n’ wild day! Woooo! Whatcha got Washington! It was really cold, but didn’t start raining until 5 miles in (right around the time I start to gain strength back in my hands). I hiked the morning with a young married couple from South Africa, Hiccup and Flapjack and we stopped at a really random cabin in the woods. I first met these guys early on in the desert so it was great to see them. They mistakenly bumped up their cold weather gear so I’m not sure how they made it through that section in shorts. Insane. Once it stopped pouring I began to hike again and 5 minutes later it started raining again. Oh well, I tried.

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Friday, oh, Friday. Rain, cold, climbing. You know who was MVP of Friday? Roger. After hiking at an incredibly consistent pace (the grade didn’t matter, I actually probably hiked faster up the mountains than down) for nearly 6 hours, I stopped suddenly in my tracks. I crossed an unpaved forest service road and there was a big truck and canopy set up. I couldn’t see people, but I saw hiker poles laid out in the rain, good indicator. I peaked my head around the wall and saw 4 hikers huddled around a fire and then a guy named Roger. “Want a hot drink?” He laughs, as if it’s not even a question. Who would deny a hot drink? I don’t even need flavor Roger! Gimme hot water! First I’ll pour it all over my body, then I’ll chug it. I mean, hot cocoa please!image

He had a table of fresh fruit and was making hot drinks for us. He kept the fire going and it took a lot of discipline not to throw myself in it. I knew Gumby and Indie, 2 females hiking together since the Sierra, and then I met 2 new guys, Lawless and Crafty. Gumby and Indie decided to spend the night there by the fire and under the tarp, but the guys headed out for more miles, and I followed suit. Roger is an engineer living in the Seattle area and was out here because it was “something he’s always wanted to do.” We told stories around the fire, thanked Roger incessantly, and I watched as Indie lit a hole in her sock drying by the fire and laughing about it. “Ohhhh welp there goes that!” Laughter is the best way out of misery.

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I went another 6 miles and set up camp around 7 again. I did a better job packing up my tent that morning so it wasn’t completely soaked. The bad part was that I gathered water and decided to hike another 2 miles. I didn’t realize it’d be up a mountain. It was good to get my blood flowing again, but bad because I was now looking to spend the night 1,000 feet higher up than I should have been. Cold. It was windy, dark, rainy, and I pitched my tent on what I prayed was an “abandoned” unpaved rocky forest service road. Everything about it was dangerous and creepy. The last line in my journal entry reads..”I’m scared.” Hahaha. Another solid end of the day by Toe Touch.

Doom&Gloom

Doom&Gloom

I slept warmer that night because I stuffed myself in a garbage bag before stuffing myself in my damp sleeping bag: success! I also had a weird quinoa Mac n’ Cheese for dinner, so my tummy was warm and happy. Oh, and a pink frosted sugar cookie! Gas station special!

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I woke up on Saturday having 26 miles until my resupply point: Snoqualmie Pass, a ski resort with a motel and gas station. I decided that if I stayed dry, I would take it easy and camp a few miles from “town.” If I remained soaked, I was high tailing it to town. Luckily, 6 miles into my morning, I crossed another unpaved road and found Brian. Brian’s wife, ALTA (an acronym for “At Least Till Ashland”) is thru-hiking and since he just retired, is driving the camper up the country and making her dinner every 3-4 days when they meet-up. It’s adorable. It was a really cold morning, I tried eating an apple but I kept dropping it. My grip strength was pathetically low. When I saw Brian he said the sweetest of phrases “Coffee Bars Open!” I started cheering, I don’t care how embarrassing I looked, I was so happy. It was good coffee too, I even grinded up the beans in his Java Mill. Best on trail coffee, hands down.

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Naturally, after Brian told me it was going to 100% rain all day, the sun came out. I hung around for over an hour, dried out my tent and jacket, and we listened to a baseball game on his satellite radio. Pals. As he handed me my coffee he so carefully made, he said “oh! And one more thing….BISCOTTI!” He whipped it out from behind his back with such enthusiasm I began cheering again. Boy did we have a great time. His wife is a day behind me and unfortunately I haven’t met her yet, but with her being so close I hope to see them both again! As I packed up my stuff I asked if I could do anything for him for such an amazing cup of coffee, biscotti, and sleeve of Oreos, and he said yes, yes I could. “I do this for the same reasons I worked as an Emergency Room Nurse for over 30 years, I do it to help people, and the only payment I take is a smile.” So I smiled as big as I could and jetted off! Before I was out of ear shot he said hey Toe touch! You smell that? “No Brian, what’s that smell?” “CANADA!” haha, and I disappeared into the woods, continuing North into the patch of sunshine.

Using Brian's truck as a drying line

Using Brian’s truck as a drying line

I stayed dry the rest of the day. I hiked slow because I didn’t want to get too close to civilization too early, because then I wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation. In an incredible act of self-restraint, I set up camp early, only 3 miles from the pass. I took my time hiking, I actually stopped and picked berries and put them in a bag. Usually I just do a drive-by trying to pick them without ever slowing my perpetual motion. I sat on a rock and took a few deep breathes and enjoyed the quiet. I set up camp, made oatmeal, broke my spoon, and laid there so comfortably. I was warm, I was fed, I was so grateful for Roger and Brian helping me through this miserable weather, and I had plans to meet Camel for Breakfast at the Pancake House in the morning. I wasn’t scared anymore, I made it! What an incredible week to look back on, it’s been awhile since I did 4 nights without a resupply. Also kind of crazy that doing a marathon day after day weighted down constitutes my version of “taking it easy.” How normal this life has become.

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Sad day. I found this spoon in the hiker box at the most questionable “Trail Angels” compound in early May. RIP.

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I feel like getting to Snoqualmie Pass is a big accomplishment for Northbounders. We are about halfway through Washington, and the next 270 miles are said to be stunning (and thus extremely difficult). We are entering the Northern Cascades. The weather has turned on, so we will continue to do our best to co-exist with the low temps and rain, hoping to be granted as many views as the clouds will allow. As I hiked down to the Pass I felt such a large feeling of achievement, and I realized that from here on out I will be getting snippets of what Canada will feel like. Getting so close.

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Sucker cloud

Sucker cloud

The overall motivation level here amongst the hikers is low. Camel said it best, “I feel like a super-senior, doing whatever I can to stay in towns longer, like failing bowling 101.” Again, motivation is low. The weather is making things much tougher on us. Sure, we expected this, but it doesn’t make it easier. The positive I draw from it is how much easier it will make the end. I surely won’t miss it as much as I would if I glided to the finish amongst the soft sun and butterflies. It’s always an easier break-up when your boyfriend is an asshole towards the end, right? So thank you, Washington, for making it easier on us, in the long-term at least.

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To be honest, there were plenty of times I loved the misery of the weather. I felt pretty wild as I hiked through it and really strong as I tried to figure out ways to stay warm. I wouldn’t last longer than 5 minutes on one of those survivor shows, but I was really proud of myself for how I stuck it out. I didn’t even shed  a tear, just laughter. When things get really bad, laughter is my only way out. Yeah, I wouldn’t last very long on those survivor shows, mostly because I wouldn’t pass the psych test.

One reason I wanted to do the PCT, and a motivating component in which keeps me going, is delayed gratification. I love going a long time without daily occurrences. The gratification for these things is tripled when you are cold and wet for 4 days. Hands wrapped around a hot mug of coffee after a 100 mile stretch like that one? No greater feeling.

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Rumor has it we have one more storm and then a dry couple of weeks. I’ll take it. If you are a meteorologist or psychic and want to tell me otherwise, go for it. For once I am choosing to 100% believe in this rumor. After a shower, laundry, and a quality burger, my world has been turned around. I am excited to get back out there and hike with the elements again. I know I’ll get wet and my hands will be frozen to my trekking poles once more, but my confidence is high and this stretch is only 70 miles. 70 miles! A breeze!

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Goat Rocks: Photo Gallery

The Goat Rocks Wilderness area is so beautiful that it’s getting its own platform. As I traveled through the 30+ mile stretch I quickly realized how influential each mile would be. I was left speechless for the first time since the Sierra. I paused several times per minute allowing myself to breathe it all in – my eyes and smile wider than Washington. I was awe struck. I felt really small again, really insignificant, and really humbled. I wanted to experience it all; I never wanted it to end. The Goat Rocks are a magical place and I want to take everyone for a hike there, I want everyone to be impacted by the emotion I felt all day, I want everyone to smile that wide. Christmas morning, it was like Christmas morning.

Note: I saw no goats, but did see tons of rocks. Not the outcome I was hoping for but 1 outta 2 aint bad!

My next section is 100 miles to Snoqualmie Pass and it is looking quite wet. Washington is also entirely uphill. I feel good besides soreness in my feet each morning and the tingling of my nerves in my back. I just bought one of those stupid emergency ponchos and the cook at the pizza place gave me a trash bag. I may or may not be back after 100 miles. In the meantime, enjoy the photos! Toe Touch: out.

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This is Half-ass, he asked me to sign his flag. He started off my day

This is Half-ass, he asked me to sign his flag. He started off my day

Mt. Adams shooting off laser beams

Mt. Adams shooting off laser beams

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Eating some goldfish, staring at Mount St. Helens

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I took this same photo 5 years ago

I took this same photo 5 years ago

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The Knifes Edge

The Knifes Edge

Rainier

Rainier

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Camped on the windy rocky ridge

Camped on the windy rocky ridge

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Sunset

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Sunrise

Morning light

Sunrise

Sunrise

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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The countdown is on.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Save

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Exit:Oregon

Day: 132

Mile: 2,144.2

Location: Thee HISTORIC Cascade Locks, Oregon

Avocado Count: 54

Shower Count: 30

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I kid you not, I spent several miles wondering if I could get away with introducing myself as “ToeTouch2000.” I’ve been too insecure on the idea to put it through trial, but since it just made this opening paragraph I suppose I still think it’s the coolest idea. There’s not many trail registers on the PCT, but in the next one I’m signing it ToeTouch2000, so get excited for THAT, trail friends.

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It took me 8 days to walk 1.5 miles, but I finally made it to the 2,000 mark. Laura’s Bach party was incredibly fun and I don’t think it could have gone smoother. She asked me at one point if I was experiencing any culture shock and I lied and said NOPE IM GOOD IM FINE. Just like our mom taught us, “ohh it’s just a little white lie, it won’t harm anyone!”

Troop Beverly Hills! 7 mile hike -- Beehive Basin

Troop Beverly Hills! 7 mile hike — Beehive Basin

Truth is, while I was at the cabin I was completely fine and had a blast with everyone, but it was the drive that shook me a bit. I spent my sweet time driving from Bend to Bozeman (13 hours). I listened to a ton of top hits on the radio and felt really relieved to know that nothing has changed in our world: Justin Timberlake still owns every station. What made me feel a little “off” was all the shopping centers I passed. So clean cut, so uniform, so big. So much stuff, why do we have sooo much stuff? It’s unreal, it gave me a nauseous feeling knowing people spend the day at these huge stores shopping for things they don’t need. Then go to the chain restaurant in the same plaza for lunch and are surrounded by people who don’t look you in the eye — who pass you by without a smile — who accidentally bump into you because they are doing a million things at once — who order a meal while talking on the phone. I mean, where’s the fist bump? Can I get a toe touch?!?

Just when I thought you were the COOL state Oregon

Just when I thought you were the COOL state Oregon

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Okay, I don’t expect a fist bump, but you hopefully see my dilemma. As Dreamer told me in Bend “this trip to Montana will be a great trial for your reintroduction back into the normal world.” He was right, it WAS a great trial. I learned that it will indeed be an adjustment period, and I will have to do my best to slowly accept that not everybody will want to talk to me and that most everybody will have their head down in their phone or at the ground. The nice part is that my efforts to connect and engage with people will continue, and I know that there are so many amazing people outside the trail world that will make me really happy. But the shopping centers, the shopping centers will continue to freak me out. I’m not sure I’ll ever be comfortable near one again. I’m gonna need to hire a personal shopper. Gah.

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On my way back from Montana I spent the night in Boise so I could resupply at a Trader Joes. Well, an hour after leaving Boise I stopped for gas in Oregon. The nice man was filling up my tank (it’s illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon) and I realized I didn’t have my sandwich bag of money (my ‘purse’). I started to get teary eyed by my mistake. I looked at him and apologized; I couldn’t pay for this. I called the motel and luckily they found it in my room. The cashier voided it as a “drive-off” and was SUPER nice about it. “These things happennn sweetie, don’t worryyyy about it, just get back here before the end of the day with the cash or I’ll have to call you in.” Haha, call me in? Could you IMAGINE?! With everything the trail has thrown at me, I would have had to quit because I didn’t pay for my gas. Classic Jules.

For brunch I made "Cinnamon Roll French Toast Casserole" all of Laura's favorite words in a form that she can eat.

For brunch I made “Cinnamon Roll French Toast Casserole” — all of Laura’s favorite words in a form that she can eat.

Since I am NOT writing this from a jail cell, I successfully paid for my gas within a few hours (I’m such a mature adult!), but the backtracking was completely and hilariously appropriate for this summer. Mile 55’s motto is “No New Miles.” This should be obvious since we named our crew after backtracking and hiking the 55th mile 3 times, among MANY other backtracking instances. Every morning we would pack up camp and Camel would yell “alright team! No new miles today! I expect NO new miles out of anyone!” And surely enough, one of us would find ourselves backtracking for one obscure reason or another. We’d vent about it over dinner and the group would give full support for the mishap, and then completely judge them. What an idiot! Can you BELIEVE that guy! (thumb pointing). So backtracking to Boise made more sense than it should of, and didn’t bother me one bit.

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After a week of little activity and lots of dairy, sugar, and alcohol, I got back to the trail feeling pretty weighed down. I started hiking at noon on Tuesday and accomplished 22 miles — it was okay. I had a light dinner of the most anti-inflammatory foods I know of and then an extra shot of turmeric and ginger coconut milk. I knew it was going to take a few days for my body to feel good again, so in taking Bear Claws advice for coming back after a long break, I “embraced the suck.” Just another challenge of the summer, I knew returning to the trail after a luxurious weekend of all my favorite things was going to be TOUGH. All the things I miss the most from home were somehow captured in that weekend, so going back to such an extreme lifestyle was a transition that I knew would test me. Luckily, I missed the trail, and was excited to get back to the movement and the ground. I actually couldn’t wait to get dirty and sweaty again, I felt really soft, and as it turns out, I don’t like feeling soft. Faith over fear, right Karyn?

Sardines and Avocado dinner, feeling like ToeTouch:DesertEdition

Sardines and Avocado dinner, feeling like ToeTouch:DesertEdition

Whoop whoop! Party!!

Whoop whoop! Party!!

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3 Fingered Jack

3 Fingered Jack

So I get to the 2,000 mile marker, Woohoo! And guess who is sitting there with a box of lucky charms, bottle of wine, and reeses peanut butter cups? Yeah I didn’t know her either. Her name is Slo-Mo and I met her for the first time, but guess where she is from? BREWSTER, NEW YORK. That’s the same area code as me! And you know what trail number we just passed a sign for? 845. It was pretty gnarly. She’s only 22 so we don’t have any mutual friends, but she was awesome and was waiting there for her buddy. I haven’t seen her since.

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I woke up the next morning and almost collapsed. My feet were SO sore. Really ToeTouch2000? 22 measly miles yesterday and now ya can’t walk? Should you call a carriage to come and escort you to Canada? Maybe they can feed you grapes during the ride, huh? How about that? PULL IT TOGETHER!

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It took 3 miles, but they loosened up. I wasn’t very pleased, but again, I knew there’d be ailments. Another one was back chafing, something I really haven’t had on the whole hike. Now I am going to use this term VERY loosely, but I don’t know how else to describe it: I felt ‘fat and out of shape.’ I was all swelled up (both inside and out), my breathing was very shallow, and my heart would start racing after only a few steps uphill. It was awful. Never again, I will do whatever it takes to not feel this way hiking ever again. This lasted 75 miles. On the fourth day my feet finally felt better, the inflammation went down significantly, and to put it plainly, Toe Touch got her groove back! I was dancing again, skipping around, marveling at the mountains, talking to all the weird bugs and asking them why they are so weird, and being just an absolute darling to all the weekend hikers. It was the breakthrough I was working towards, and I’m so glad the readjustment period is over, and am really proud I didn’t sacrifice any miles, I picked up right where I left off, 30’s. Phew.

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Milky water from the glacial run-off. Might not wanna drink this

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After 95 miles I made it to a place I’ve been wanting to see for 5 years: Timberline Lodge, at the base of Mt. Hood. My goal was to get there for lunch and a cocktail. After a pretty nice climb, I arrived at the lodge around 1pm. It was flooded with tourists, but nothing too outrageous. I changed into my “nice” town clothes (clothes that I don’t hike in but that  still smell, they just don’t smell AS bad and aren’t covered in dust). I went to the Blu Ox Bar mainly because I smelled something delicious and followed that scent. It led me to a lower level hole in the wall pizza bar, it was a dream come true. I had a lemon-basil ginger vodka soda (their cocktail of the day) and a salad.

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Walking through Jefferson Park

Walking through Jefferson Park

Before I ordered I heard “Julie?” I ignored it, surely someone didn’t know my REAL name in here. Then again, “Julie??” This time I turned around and yelled to the bar “ALRIGHT! WHO IN HERE KNOWS MY BIRTH NAME?!? Huh?!?” I’m kidding, I didn’t yell that, but how aggressive would THAT have been! I gently turned toward the voice and it was Sarah and her dad! They are doing the Oregon section of the PCT together for 4 weeks! I met them a few miles before Crater Lake. They skipped some sections and are, in their words, doing the “lazy resort to resort PCT hike” haha they are certainly enjoying themselves. We talked for awhile but they were spending 2 days at the lodge so I knew that’d be the last time I saw them. Sarah is 25 and her dad is probably early 60’s and they are both shocked they haven’t killed each other yet, it was one of the sweetest things I’ve witnessed all summer. Hey Bob, whaddya say, me and you next summer! I’ll bring the crosswords you bring the credit card! We’re gonna need a lot of burgers!

Sarah, her dad, Paul Bunyan, and Babe

Sarah, her dad, Paul Bunyan, and Babe

Climbing up to the lodge, Mt Hood getting really big

Climbing up to the lodge, Mt Hood getting really big

I spent 5 hours catching up with friends and walking around the lodge. They didn’t have a general store of any type and I was all out of snacks (breakfast and lunch). I had to get creative: Vending Machine resupply it was.

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I had 45 miles to the next town and all I had were 2 dinners and 2 cliff bars. I don’t require much, but I need more than THAT. So here you have it folks, at mile 2,116, ToeTouch2000 (has it stuck yet?) sat down in the dirt, back against a log, and ate her first PCT pop-tart. And you know what? It tasted just as good as it did when I was 13. Although I miss the foil wrapper, the blue plastic wrapper makes me feel like a millennial.

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Little Crater Lake, still creepy even the second time around

Little Crater Lake, still creepy even the second time around

Thanks for spelling that out for us, sign. We must be a really dumb demographic.

Thanks for spelling that out for us, sign. Being a thru-hiker I don’t know how to read, write, or follow instructions.

Later that day, my last full hiking day in Oregon, I met Nathan. Nathan is 20, going into his 3rd year at Princeton, and has spent his month thru-hiking the state of Oregon. Nathan completely reinstalled my faith in that age-group. We talked about so many subjects and in such depth that by the time I looked at the time 2.5 hours had gone by. We talked a lot about choices, lifestyles, holistic nutrition, thruhiking, and the differences between the community we are used to back East, and the community of the trail.

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What's the over/under on me eating these M&M's I found on trail?

What’s the over/under on me eating these M&M’s I found on trail?

Our conversation could have been on a lifestyles podcast. I’m not sure how, but he got me talking A LOT. I listen to so many podcasts and read so many articles, but rarely do I get a chance to talk about them with someone, so it was really beneficial to discuss the things that mean the most to me with a fantastic listener. I was also surprised on how much I’ve retained over the last couple years of research, it felt good to realize that a lot of it is in the vault upstairs!

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Nathan is such a smart kid, and an incredible listener because I definitely got going on certain topics and am not sure I took many breathes between sentences. Nathan said something that particularly resignated with me, he said, “I love talking about the power of choosing and the control we have on it, I believe there is a certain religion in choosing, and that once you make that BIG choice, everything thereafter falls into place. Take this hike for example, once you CHOOSE to thru-hike, everything will fall into place. You just have to wake up and CHOOSE to be enthusiastic and positive about the day.” I can’t wait to see what adventures this kid gets into, he’s got such a great grip on life and is already so aware of his surroundings. You wanna know how aware of my surroundings I was at 20?

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Nathan took a break at the next good looking log he saw and I continued on. We both thanked each other for a great conversation and were certainly grateful for each other’s company that afternoon. I pray a lot, and one of the things I pray for most is for God to bring the right people into my life, at the time when I need them most. I usually don’t realize why I needed them until they are gone, and then I reflect and understand how big of a role they played, and yes, how much I did need them, and how grateful I am for the lessons they taught me.

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What's the over/under on me eating this dog biscuit I found on trail?

What’s the over/under on me eating this dog biscuit I found on trail?

I hiked a few more miles and then said screw it, here’s a good looking flat spot. It was only 6:00 but my last night in Oregon, and I was ready to enjoy it. This week I approached the trail as more of an “everyday living” type of life. Does that make sense? No? Okay well basically, instead of really roughing it and saving daily practices for town, I began to take my time and take better care of myself and my things. I took more time at night with my feet, I washed my face better, I fixed little things concerning my gear, I did planks and push-ups, I made dinner slowly, and I stayed really organized. This is, after all, my life.

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I’ve managed to keep some of the same morning rituals I had while living in Jackson: my morning shot of apple cider vinegar, coconut oil pulling, water chugging, unbraiding and rebraiding my hair, and putting on the SAME clothes I wore the day before. Instead of going to work I hike 30 miles. Instead of getting home and going running, I set up my tent and take care of my body and belongings. I make dinner, filter my water for the next day, write in my journal, make my golden milk, snuggle into my sleeping bag, put a handful (or 2 or 3) of chocolates on my stomach, I read my current “NY Times Best-Selling” paperback that I got at the thrifty for 25 cents, I brush my teeth and spit it out of my tent, I roll back over, thank the lord for another day, thank my body, mind, and heart for another day, kill a few bugs, and fall asleep. Go ahead and tell me my routine is that far off from yours? It felt really good to truly get back to LIVING outside again because let’s face it, there’s nothing more fulfilling to me. It feels so natural. It makes me so happy.

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Oh, right, my last night in Oregon! If you remember, I spent my last night in California on a windy, rocky ridge with incredible views of sunset and sunrise closing out the state perfectly. Oregon ended with its best features as well: in a warm forest, with a view of a tree stump, listening to dead branches fall down all around me, and surrounded by weird bugs. It was perfect. I couldn’t even see the stars the forest was so thick and green. I slept in and got my latest start in almost 2 months: 8:30.image

I took the Eagle Creek Trail out to Cascade Locks, about 15 miles.  Since my vending machine resupply wasn’t ideal, I had only 1 cliff bar left. I ate it over the course of an hour, about 5 miles in. For whatever reason I was still hungry, and an hour later had a couple spoonfuls of coconut oil, the only source of calories left in my pack (besides my huge bag of spices, I take my spice kit very seriously). I’ve done this before, eaten too much coconut oil…it gives me a stomach-ache everytime. I get strangely defensive when it comes to coconut oil and I always have its back, so I usually blame it on bad water. But if I’m being honest with myself my stomach hurts because I just ate spoonfuls of straight OIL. Did I THINK that’d go over well? A little coconut oil is definitely very good for you, but when it’s in its solid form I forget how much I’m really ingesting, and that’s where it bites me in the ass.

Naturally, being from New York, I took out my knife, ripped it to shreds, and then stomped on it with my foot. 😉

Naturally, being from New York, I took out my knife, ripped it to shreds, and then stomped on it with my foot. 😉

Anyways, I made the clif bar and coconut oil work and as I walked into town Rant (one of the Warriors and Combat Vets) messaged me asking where I was. It was super weird because I was just searching for his number to see where they were that. Rather perfectly, they were at the Ale House with pitchers of craft beer and pizza. They generously took care of everything and it was so great to see them again. Rant says I’m the “daughter he never wanted” and I say he’s the “drunk uncle I never wanted.” We recapped the section, called Cheryl Strayed a quitter (sorry Cheryl, we didn’t mean it, well, Rant probably did), and went off. I couldn’t imagine a better introduction into a town after a long stretch.

The Warriors!

The Warriors!

Looks like a lot of hikers have been here...

Looks like a lot of hikers have been here…

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The Eagle Creek trail was spectacular, so many amazing waterfalls in a luscious green environment. It was an extremely ideal way to say goodbye to this state. Oregon started off pretty rough: lots of down trees, flat areas, no views, mosquitoes, all around boredom. But after 200 miles the crystal clear lakes became frequent, the volcanic mountains became monstrous as we inched closer, the forests became softer, the waterfalls became prominent. By the end of Oregon I was pretending I was living in the Jungle Book. If that doesn’t sum it up for ya, you’re on your own.

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Got a death wish?

Got a death wish?

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The community, resorts, and towns in Oregon blew me away. So friendly, so supportive, so interested. I met so many section hikers this month, a ton of PCT South-Bounders (most started started in Canada early July), and even more weekend warriors. I didn’t get rained on ONCE. Okay fine, I got hit by 3 drops the MOMENT I touched the highway for my 8 day break, how OBNOXIOUS is that! I wasn’t going to mention it because I don’t want to jinx myself for the wettest state of all, Washington. Big bad Washington. Big mountains, wild weather, remoteness, and the best part of the trail. 504.5 miles till Canada.

Caught blue handed...I ate SO many wild huckleberries and blueberries

Caught blue handed…I ate SO many wild huckleberries and blueberries

It took me a while to read this...getting crafty huh south-bounders!

It took me a while to read this…getting crafty huh south-bounders!

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Just please, do me a favor, and I say this as nicely as it can sound through text…please don’t say I’m “almost done.” 1. It makes me very sad (I am going to miss this so much) and 2. It’s just not true. I still have a very large state left, and this particular state will be physically challenging, unlike Oregon, it’s mentally challenging brother. It may seem like we are racing through miles now, but with all the climbing and shorter days coming up, my daily mileage is sure to decrease. The miles seem to be getting longer, I actually thought I crossed into a different time zone on Saturday the day was going by so slowly — “surely it’s not only 10Am, it’s gotta be at LEAST noon! Come on! But yes, in the scheme of things I am almost done, it’s just a scary thought is all.

Ramona Falls, our crew put those rocks in at the approach 5 years ago!

Ramona Falls, our crew put those rocks in at the approach 5 years ago!

This is Susan, she is probably 70, has a huge pack, wears a bonnet, and told me I walked through her backyard in Mt. Laguna (day 3). I love this trail.

This is Susan, she is probably 70, has a huge pack, wears a bonnet, and told me I walked through her backyard in Mt. Laguna (day 3). I love this trail.

Last state! I’ll cross the iconic Bridge of the Gods, tip my trucker hat to Oregon, and immediately climb back up to elevation. But not after an extremely large soft serve ice cream cone because it’s been Hot! Hot! Hot! here in Oregon this week…high 90’s! But don’t worry, I STILL have my umbrella, I’ve used it twice all summer but can’t get myself to ship it home. And the winner for most USELESS piece of gear goes toooo….

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Answers: I ate the M&Ms, and would have eaten the biscuit if there wasn’t a paw print on it. Rock bottom = Nothing left to lose. 👍

“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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Backcountry Blister Popping Party!

Backcountry Blister Popping Party!

Halfway Point!

Location: in my tent, overwhelmed with the fear a mountain lion is circling me

Miles: 1,328

Avocado Count: 38

Shower Count: 20

Note: This is my first post written uncaffeinated, but with the mountain lion activity around here my adrenaline is pumping so I’ll probably still write with the same energy level.

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Who told me it got easier after the Sierra? And why did I believe them?

The mileage has gone up, and just like us American women say in the real world — 30 is the new 20! The past couple weeks I’ve been aiming for 28-30 miles per day. They haven’t been easy. Long steep climbs, overgrown brush, fallen trees and poison oak (another peril of the trail that I have successfully ignored, for now). But no snow. Well, one cute little patch, but that was it. It’s amazing how many miles you can accomplish in a day when you can SEE and FEEL the trail!

This is Jugs. He carries gallons of water and an unreal amount of gear. He is old and tiny, and I am SO glad to hear he made it through the Sierra!

This is Jugs. He carries gallons of water and an unreal amount of gear. He is old, tiny, and wears jean shorts and I am SO glad to hear he made it through the Sierra! I haven’t seen him since the early desert.

I left South Lake Tahoe on a Thursday afternoon and caught a ride with a 2015 PCT thru-hiker that currently lives in town. It was a great ride back to the trail and he was the first person to tell me that NorCal is steep. I met him for 15 minutes and he’s already been more truthful than everyone else! Thanks again Clay! He dropped me off at Echo Lake where there is a little store. First thought that came to mind: Ice cream? It’s 5pm, I’m about to hike a lazy evening of garbage miles, I should have ice cream.

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I saw a couple guys I knew getting dropped off at the same time, Siri and The Prodigy (no explanation needed, the guy can move). We hiked together that night for about 10 miles along Echo Lake and down past Aloha Lake. It was unbelievably gorgeous, and the sun setting just made life even more adorably perfect. The sugar rush wore off so I set up camp around 8:00 as the boys pushed on. All 3 of us oddly enough had packages in Truckee, and we needed to get there between 11-2 on Saturday if we wanted the Post Office doors to be open. We were in for what can only be labeled as a, wait, are you ready for it? You sure? “Big Day.”

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As I got reorganized in my tent and cooked up some dinner, I looked at the mileage. I was off by over 10 miles. Truckee was farther than I thought. I should have started hiking earlier today instead of putzing around and eating ice cream, I should have hiked more miles. I set myself up for failure. Perfect. My attitude shifted quickly, what a challenge that lay before me! I woke up and did some quick math, I had 30 hours to hike 53 miles. After a good laugh at how miserable that sounded, I hit the ground running. The plan? Hike for as long as I can stand today, try to sleep at least 6 hours, and start hiking by 5am the next morning. Easy. Not.

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The day started with a climb up Dicks Pass, getting lost in the snowy descent, and then making a wrong turn at a trail junction, thus adding 1.5 miles to my, remember? “Big Day.” That was rough, total mental fluster, I was so mad at myself. WHY AREN’T I BETTER AT THIS BY NOW. I should have been more focused, but I wasn’t and I needed to make up that time. Luckily, the next 10 miles were relatively flat, and flooded with mosquitoes. You wanna hike fast? Surround yourself with blood-sucking devils, you’ll pee your pants before you’d think to stop. The only time I stopped was because my stomach was growling for my avocado. I took a chance and stopped to eat it. Regret. I almost threw my avocado at the black swarm. I was so frustrated I couldn’t get 2 minutes to sit in peace. I’m ashamed to say, that was the last avocado I’ve eaten.

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So the 4:00 hour hits and I get myself to a trailhead where I see Bear Claw (she packs out pastries from every town stop 👍👌) and Lemonade. I met these guys after the descent of Glen Pass back in the middle of June. We officially became friends when we hiked up Donohue Pass together before entering Yosemite. During our ascent of Donohue Pass we exchanged comparable sarcastic glances at one another as we listened to a group of JMT’ers (John Muir Trail hikers) tell us how dangerous Donohue Pass was and that they could NOT, with a CLEAR CONCIOIUS tell us to go over it at this point in the day (it was 3:30). They took it a step further and told us there was even SNOW on the OTHER side! Oh boy! We were so respectful, so polite, and totally told them we would discuss it and probably take their word for it and tackle the pass in the morning when the snow is harder. Once they were out of earshot we couldn’t stop ourselves, really? It was cute in a way, it was their first mountain pass, first experience in the snow, and clearly, they were overwhelmed by the whole experience. 3 hours later, we were up and down the thing happily trotting towards camp all in agreement that was the easiest pass of the Sierra. And that those poor JMT’ers are realllyyyyy in for it with what lay up ahead for them hah! Point being, Bear Claw, Lemonade and I are on the same page, so seeing them during this “Big Day” was really valuable. They are the coolest couple because they live in San Francisco and have big kid jobs but are taking a leave of absence to thru-hike the PCT. They are engaged and getting married THIS week in a small trail town. They invited me and you can bet your buttons my mind has been swirling and whirling with ideas on how to make that happen. And what on earth I would wear.

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After seeing Bear Claw and Lemonade, I felt reenergized. They told me they knew I could do it and when I went to respond I sputtered out “yeah, yeah I can do this but…” I hesitated as I tried to fight off the negativity about to spill out, because the truth is I knew I COULD do it, hey, I believe in myself, how could I not at this point? So as I hesitated I looked at Lemonade who I knew would finish my thought for me, and right on cue he spilled…”but it’s gonna suck.” Spot.On. And suck, it did. I still felt reenergized by them and it was also nice because I hadn’t seen any other PCT’ers all day and I was beginning to think I made another wrong turn. I hiked 12 more miles that night. Up switchbacks and onto a ridge and across a ski resort? Yeah, definitely chairlifts popped out of nowhere, it was awesome. The ridge line was incredible, it was breezy, mosquito free, and the sunset was out of this world. As rushed as I felt, I took a break to sit down and take it all in. I stopped hiking at 10:00, set up my tent, cooked my dinner, patted myself on the back, and passed.out. I hiked 37 miles in 15 hours. I woke up at 5, almost collapsed on my first steps because my feet were so sore, and hiked the remaining 15 miles by noon.

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It wasn’t easy. I was in a lot of pain. Towards the end of the 37 mile day my shin was in extreme pain. Sharp, sharp pains, mostly on the downhills and flat parts. The next morning, I could barely hike. It was an obvious limp, so obvious that I was honestly embarrassed, but I couldn’t walk right, it hurt too badly. In my mind, my left leg was broken, shattered to pieces I tell ya! Ship me home to New York! Someone activate their SPOT device, we need a helicopter! Stick a fork in her PCT, this Toe Touch is cooked!

Long saga short, I had type-Hell shin splints. For the next 200 miles, I would limp. For the next 200 miles I would plan my speech for why I couldn’t finish the PCT. For the next 200 miles I would feel my bones crumbling underneath my skin. For the next 200 miles I would be extremely dramatic. For the next 200 miles I inhaled turmeric, coconut oil, sardines, magnesium, and collagen. And for the next 200 miles I would be 100% McCloskey: not rest, up my mileage, quicken my pace, and tell myself to hike through it. Mission accomplished. If someone taught me how to sit still while growing up, maybe I would have handled this differently. But no one did, so I kept moving.

My after dinner drink, "Golden Milk" (coconut milk powder & turmeric)

My after dinner drink, “Golden Milk” (coconut milk powder & turmeric)

I made it to Truckee with an hour to spare. I got my new shoes! Did I mention I did that little adventure in garbage shoes? If not, I did that section in garbage shoes, feel bad for me feel bad for me! People are dying of hunger and I hiked a section with worn down shoes, good grief.

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I celebrated my victory at the CoffeeBar and then hitched a ride back up to Donnor Pass. An on-call nurse picked me up and fed me sugar cubes (yes, like a horse) and we chatted and joked and listened to Howard Stern radio during the quiet moments. She ruled.

The following morning I hiked (well I TRIED to keep up with) a guy named John Z. He passed me and I took one look at his backpack and asked if he was a thru-hiker. He laughed and said yeah of course. I was like well sir, you’re backpack is smaller then the one I used in High School, do you sleep in a hammock or something? He laughed again at my ignorance, but in my defense, his backpack was TINY for a thru-hiker, and not an ITEM on the outside of it. He must not eat, sleep, or drink water. After limping after him to ask more questions we actually had a great conversation. But seriously guys, his backpack — I’m talking like maybe one U.S. history textbook, a 5-subject notebook, and of course, a planner. Turns out he’s really good at this, and hikes 50-60 mile days. I doubt he even pees.

The next few days were pretty solo, with little encounters here and there. The views were gorgeous and it was definitely one of my favorite sections of the whole trail. The wild flowers are in bloom and are everywhere!

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I got into Sierra City around lunchtime and picked up my packages after lunch at the Red Moose Cafe (moose lore everywhere, I could of sat there all day). I was pretty beaten up by the last 90 miles and was really excited to open a package from my sister Laura and friend Jeannie. I also got 2 letters from my friend Erin and her mom Terry! Both filled with love and encouraging quotes on the inside and out. Receiving those gifts put my head back in the game, and my heart back in the hike. I saw Bear Claw and Lemonade on the porch and told them I’d catch them wherever they set up camp for the night. I hiked out shortly after them, but my leg hurt so bad I called it quits before I found them. The next couple of days I tried to catch them with no luck, they were consistently 2-3 miles ahead of me. I did however hike with a guy named CityTime (he’s known for his late departures in the morning). CityTime is a climber in Boulder and we hiked a lot of miles together over the next few days. We both decided that we love thru-hiking, but don’t see ourselves doing such a long one again, we miss our other hobbies — for him, rock climbing, for me, running & biking. And we both miss our friends back home, being able to call them up whenever, for whatever (ahem, happy hour). And we also agree on what the hardest part of hiking the PCT is: Taylor Swift not being on Spotify.

Here's CityTime finding extraordinary luck in the garbage can at Belden, new (old) insoles! Same brand and size! Taking #hikertrash to the next level

Here’s CityTime finding extraordinary luck in the garbage can at Belden, new (old) insoles! Same brand and size! Taking #hikertrash to the next level

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My kind of town

My kind of town

After nearly 80 miles or so I finally found Bear Claw and Lemonade! They were sprawled out on a ridge, next to a block a cheese, pretty flustered by last minute wedding logistics. They had service so were trying to do some major brunch problem solving. We caught up for awhile and then finished up our hike together into Belden. Belden is a resort type of thing. It’s not a town. It’s a campground with motel rooms and a restaurant. Belden is weird. What made Belden even weirder was that they were hosting a Burning Man Reunion. When I went to set up my tent a guy stopped me and asked me if I was going all the way to Canada, I said yes, and he gave a big WOOHOO RIGHT ON!!! Then he asked if I wanted a shot, and even though every alarm went off in my head, I said yes. He poured Jameson down my throat and when I dribbled a little he wiped my face with his hand. Belden is weird.

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Bear Claw and Lemonade generously bought pitchers of beer and we cheers’ed to another section completed. I grabbed some more packages and went to my tent to see what I got! One package from my high school friend Kacie, fully equipped with delicious granola, Swedish fish, and this shirt….

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And I got a package from my brother Chris and sister-in-law Kelly. They sent me all local food from their co-op, one of the most touching letters I’ve ever received, pictures of family, and my mom snuck in a new pair of underwear. I was a mess. My leg was still really bad at this point, going on over a week, and just more encouraging gifts from family and friends. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

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We climbed out of Belden the next morning after spending the night tripping acid and jumping off rooftops. Okay fine, we went to bed super early and got coffee in the morning, nearly the same thing. It had to be the longest climb of the trail? I don’t know I guess, but it was 5,000′ right out of the gates, and a total of 7,000′ for the day. This climb, this 6-hour vertical hike, stretched out my calf so much that my leg began to heal. The next day was miraculous, definitely tender, but no limp. Oh thank goodness! Thank you PCT for punishing us so much!

My skin is shedding so I thought I'd document it

My skin is shedding so I thought I’d document it

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I lost the other 3 guys during the climb and got to a campsite where a guy by the name of Stoic offered me an Oreo. Done deal, I’m stayin’. Turns out he’s from Syracuse! Really cool guy, he lives in Seattle teaching adult literacy, but for now, he hands out Oreos. Another hiker named Animal was camped there as well, I met him 2 weeks ago at Sonora Pass and noticed his shin all wrapped up. We exchanged complaints and turns out, we have the same injury. Just stemming from turning up the mileage too fast I suppose. Lots of hikers are either banged up, taking extended time off from the trail, or really working on finding a good mileage balance to avoid burnout. Everyone’s strategy is changing now that we are halfway through, groups are breaking up all over the place and even people calling it quits for good (Spoon had the best idea: he said since a lot of people quit during this section, he wishes it were like the Hunger Games and every night a cannon goes off and we see a picture in the sky of the hiker who just left the trail, gosh, if only!). Needless to say, it’s a very interesting time for the trail rumor circuit!

I woke up in the most peaceful state that morning. Stoic was up and walking by 5:30, a perfect time for me to start the process of opening one eye at a time and attempting to stretch out my body without pulling any muscles (always a scary time). This process can take a long time.

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I got going around 6:30 and a mile later saw Bear Claw and Lemonade also in the process of opening their eyes. They were camped right next to the trail so I decided to start banging my trekking poles together and speaking louder than normal — it was time to get goin!! Halfway mark today! Beers in Chester! Just 24 miles until the highway! Get out of those bags! Hah, I think they wished they camped a mile before me instead of after.

After 16 miles I approached the Halfway marker, mile 1,325! Stoic offered me Bourbon in celebration and he, Animal, and I had lunch together on the side of the trail. Once they left Bear Claw, Lemonade, and City-Time marched in. We clapped them in, and did a high-five line. It was a really awesome group to have around for that milestone.

I know I know, how am I always drinking on trail?

I know I know, how am
I always drinking on trail?

Stoic, Animal, and their jars of PB

Stoic, Animal, and their jars of PB

We coasted the final 8 miles to the highway where Bear Claw called trail angel “Pipers Mom” to possibly come give us a ride into town. I’m glad she did, because City-Time and I were trying to hitch a ride and were being straight up ignored by all the Saturday traffic. Pipers Mom is a trail angel in Chester and she keeps a cooler of sodas and fruits by the highway for hikers and offers her phone number for anyone coming into town. She showed up in a mini-van and was the sweetest, nicest lady. We all loved her so much. She dropped us at the local dive (the thirsty trout) so we could properly celebrate our halfway milestone. More beer for us! Thanks again Pipers Mom, we love you!

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Chester was great. Small town with Burger joints and milkshake bars. We showered for hours (it’d been 10 days since I showered or did laundry and I was disgusting). This section was extremely dusty, so we were caked in more dirt than normal. We ate tons of food, drank tons of beer and coffee, and I headed out to the trail the next day. I’m trying not to take a rest day until Oregon. I won’t be upset if I do, I’d just like to get out of California, it’s been going on forever! I hitched a ride with a guy my age. He’s got the greatest laugh and we had a ball. When he dropped me
off I realized I didn’t get his name, he said his name was Joey. As I exited the car I sang, Joey and Julie! 2 Peas in a Pod! We laughed some more and I frolicked to the trail, hyped up on espresso and soft serve ice cream, hoping to get in at least 5 hours of hiking.

Thanks tree sign, I will continue to not change a thing about my hike

Thanks tree sign, I will continue to not change a thing about my hike

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Finally, some clouds!

Finally, some clouds!

Had to say goodbye to Bear Claw and Lemonade in Chester, they are now putting all their focus on the wedding and pretending to be real people for a week or 2. I hope they catch up so we can hike and eat all the pastries in Washington together! But in all seriousness it was a blast being around them for the week, they are the type of people that become friends right away, friends that you know would do anything for you even though you haven’t known each other for that long. They’re the good ones, that’s for sure. Happy wedding week guys! The best part about their wedding is how they plan to spend the 5 days leading up to it at All-you-can-eat buffets. In no other world do the bride and groom gorge themselves before their wedding, just in this one.

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So, halfway done with the hike huh? How do I feel? I’m not really sure. It took a long time to get here, the miles have been long and hard, and the trail towns and trail Angels abundant. I have had so much fun with everybody, and have learned so much about myself, my environment, and people in general. Everyday is a new challenge, a new adventure. I’ve caught myself daydreaming of Canada a lot the last week, I think part of me will always love the thought of the finish line, but I’m such a lover of the journey that I won’t get washed away in those thoughts just yet. There are so many more miles to go, so many more lessons to be learned, so many more people to impact and be impacted by, and so many more facts about trees that need to be learned. At happy hour Bear Claw said she was sad we are halfway through, that she’s gonna miss all of this. That put it in perspective for me, our time is so limited out here. 5 months, in the scheme of things, is just a blip in our lifetime. Even on the harshest of days I love it out here, there is always, always, something to shout for joy about. I am going to miss this trail – this life – so much when it’s over, and the only thing that will help with that emotion is remembering how much I appreciated each moment, how I constantly lived for the adventure, how I embraced the unexpected, how I disconnected and lived in the moment, and how, during all of the hard times, I found something to laugh about.

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

Day: 68

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

Mile: 906.6

Avocado Count: 34

Showers Taken: 18

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

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

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

Ascending Glen Pass

Ascending Glen Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I started every morning staring at my wet shoes

I started every morning staring at my wet shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was a fun snackie

Cute little snack

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

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

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

 

The Desert Crazies

Day: 48

Location: Neldas Diner, Lake Isabela, CA

Cumulative Miles: 652

Avocados Consumed: 32

Showers Taken: 13

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I cracked. The desert broke me. It was only a matter of time, but the weird part is that it wasn’t the exposure or extreme temperature. It happened on a cold, windy, and rainy freakin’ day. Don’t get me wrong, the desert has been extremely gorgeous and rewarding, but it’s safe to say, “I’m over it.” GAHHHH

We started our hike on Sunday afternoon. Camel hiked out a day earlier so we were down to 4. If I were in high school I would have called us the “Fab 4” all week, but I’m not, so it obviously never even crossed my mind.

Brand loyal.

Brand loyal.

We had a short week on our hands, about 86 miles to the next town. All I knew about this stretch was that it’s desert-like, and there would be very little water along the way. If my preparation hasn’t impressed you so far, I feel like that last sentence MUST of got you there. Again, just wingin’ it.

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It was so cold. The first couple of days were very pleasant, but the nights provided the shivers and I laid awake making lists of more layers needed for the High Sierra. Why sleep when you can make lists? We did a lot of initial climbing, so we hiked and slept around 6,000 ft. throughout the week. The roaring wind didn’t help matters either. My goodness I am so sick of the wind. If I can pinpoint my craziness to one element it’d be the wind. For sure. GAHHHHH

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Two days BEFORE the desert made me crazy, I saw a bear. Confusing for me, because I thought I was in the Mojave desert. And because I thought “it must be a squirrel.” It wasn’t. It was a big brown bear and it scared the shit out of me. There was a stretch of forest in between more desert, it lasted about 6 miles and that is where the Mojave Brown Bear lives. Mile 595.4.

The bear stopped in the sunny part of the trail to stare me down

The bear stopped in the sunny part of the trail to stare me down

I’ve seen bears before, but never that close, and never alone. We stared at eachother in a frozen silence. I would have made a lot of noise and went bonkers, but it didn’t feel right. Instead, I did absolutely nothing. Except pray, yeah, I prayed quite a bit in those 20 seconds. It eventually huffed and charged down the right side of the trail into the woods, PHEW. I continued to do nothing for 10 minutes and hoped someone would show up behind me, no such luck.

It was 6:30 at this point, I was ahead of the pack and looking for a campsite. I couldn’t find any suitable flat ground for 3 tents, AND I wanted to get out of that bear forest, so I ended up hiking another 4 miles. I sang loudly, yelled made up words and phrases, and swung my trekking poles around. I really, really didn’t want to see that bear again.

I ended up camping alone that night, 3 miles ahead of everyone. I don’t blame them, I pulled out a big day and they hiked farther than they wanted to trying to find me. I spent all night (seriously) wondering if the bear ate Maggie (chuckles). I was genuinely concerned that someone was dead, and then I woke up to an awfully depressing fog and that confirmed my prediction. This fog, yes, this fog, means the bear killed someone. And it was probably Maggie.

breakfast with an alive and well, Chuckles

breakfast with an alive and well, Chuckles

An hour later I found everyone. Alive. WELL THAT WAS A CLOSE ONE. Everyone was shocked that I saw a bear, so now everytime I tell the tale of the Mojave Brown Bear, I get really into it, campfire style.

Dinner in the Cabana, a favorite!

Dinner in the Cabana, a favorite!

The day the desert broke me was total bullshit. That’s the only way to describe it. I expected this first 700 miles to be FLAT, HOT, and super EXPOSED. It’s been all those things probably 50% of the time. After a very long and sandy climb up a stupid hill of some sort, it started to hail. I finally get to the top, and I just get pounded with rain, and then hail. I gingerly searched for my poncho and umbrella. Why wasn’t I frantic? Why wasn’t I rushing? Why didn’t I care that I was under complete weather annihilation? I couldn’t stop laughing. I didn’t give a shit anymore. I knew it would pass, and I would eventually dry off. I let it mess with me as it pleased. I eventually threw on my poncho over a SOAKED toe touch, hiked for 5 minutes, and then took it off.

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At the bottom of the mountain was a water cache where I waited for Spoon and Chuckles. It was really windy and cold, but I took off my clothes to dry anyway. It didn’t work. So I put them back on, did a few somersaults with my pack on, laughed, yelled, screamed at the top of my lungs how badly I wanted to lay naked on hot pavement, and then we climbed up another mountain. Against the wind. At the top I looked out over the dark and stormy valley and said, In a very low tone, “I’m so fuckin’ sick of you.” I shook my head and then laughed at myself, my life, these circumstances, and remembered quickly how easy we have it out here. Gratitude gave me a swift attitude adjustment REAL QUICK.

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These lupines are quite nice though

These lupines are quite nice though

We raced into town the following day, a mostly downhill 13 miles. We stayed at the Weldon KOA and did the normal routine: beer, food, shower, laundry, beer, pretend to sleep. We hitched 35 miles with a really nice guy who had a Rolling Rock beer in his center console, he claims it was his first beer of the day. We didn’t mind. Later I hitched to the supermarket with a guy who had a 12 pack of Natty Light in his center console, he offered no explanation.

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We took the dollar bus into Lake Isabela the next day, spending one night at the Motel and the following 2 nights camped at a grassy corner in a trailer park. I met as many locals as I could, I really wanted to hear stories that didn’t involve hiking and pretend I actually lived here. It worked out well because everyone I met was super friendly. Even attended a Hawaiin Luau at the Moose Lodge!

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Drinks with Larry and Gary!

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Drinks with Keith and Dawn!

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There is plenty of snow and cold temperatures awaiting us in the Sierra (50 more miles), so we took our time in Lake Isabela to get things sorted for the long stretches in the mountains. My friends are packing up for 5 days and then hitching into Lone Pine, 88 miles down the trail. I thought about doing that as well, but then realized I love the thought of hiking straight through the first 200 miles of the Sierra. It will be about 12-14 days, because it includes a summit side trip up Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the lower 48!). Our daily mileage will also lower in the Sierra due to elevation, snow, ice, and overall beauty.

When I think about backpacking in the High Sierra, I envisioned it with some solo time. This is the perfect opportunity to see how well I can do on my own, and face all the challenges that come my way. I’m a bit nervous, but way more excited. I haven’t slept all week, my entire body is on fire with the anticipation of these mountains.

I’m oddly not stressed out about having good enough gear or enough food. My plan is to stuff my pack with food and clothes, and hike north. One step at a time, keeping it simple and letting the magic of the landscape wash over me.

Sierra ready.

Sierra ready.

My next maildrop will be in Tuolomne Meadows, looking to be there around June 15th! But first, 200 miles in the Sierra, a reboot at the Mammoth Lakes Motel 6, and then 42 miles.

Time to go see for myself what all this fuss is about. 👍😀✌️🏔🏔🏔🏔🏔🏔

 

 


 

Earning the Sierra

Day: 40

Location: Motel 6, Mojave, CA

Cumulative Miles: 566

Avocados Consumed: 29

Showers Taken: 11

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This week was a doozy. A majority of Mile 55 members labeled this the toughest hitch. I think I might agree.

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“I smell like hot dog water” said Centerfold as we hit the trail on a Saturday afternoon. With just showering and laundering the day prior — this was sad, but true. We all smelled like hot dog water. The truth is, we stink. Although, our group does take good care when it comes to hygiene, other people definitely smell worse out here. We no longer smell eachother, but we do get whiffs of ourselves everytime we adjust a backpack strap or reach across our bodies. Sure, you get used to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s found a home in all our stuff, never to be washed out again. The worst part is showering, feeling amazingly clean, then sniffing your armpits 2 hours later and BAM, ya still stink.

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I had a moment of major fear because if I can’t scrub the stank now, how am I gonna get rid of it in 4 months for my sisters wedding? Is this ridiculous? Yes, yes it is. Chuckles, in her ever so patient way of dealing with my shit, laughed and told me all I have to do is go home in September and sit in the sauna for 3 hours. That shut me up and I went on my merry way, embracing that solution and not giving the stank any further concern.

On 3 everyone look as trashy as possible...or, actually, just stay as is. Yeah, yeah that's perfect.

Okay on THREE everyone look as trashy as possible…or, actually, just stay as is. Yeah, yeah that’s perfect.

So, right, back on trail Saturday afternoon…we were all together, rested, “clean,” and caffeinated. Spirits and levels were at an all-time high. We stopped for water about 8 miles in and the pipe was barely producing a trickle. It was so unimpressive that Camel quickly named it “Splash Mountain.” It was the last water for awhile so we spent an embarrassing amount of time there, but it was evening and we all had the giggles and the crazies, so Splash Mountain proved to be a solid start to the week. Looking back, it was a big foreshadowing moment in terms of really unreliable water to come.

It's fun to stop suddenly, turn and shoot. You capture everybody's best side

It’s fun to stop suddenly, turn, and shoot. You capture everybody’s best side

As the sun was setting, we found flat ground to set-up camp. The view was gorgeous, and the laughs were abundant.

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We had the pleasure of hiking/camping with Zucchini (real-name unknown) that night (she is since long gone). Zucchini is 19 and has already hiked the Appalacchian Trail, and now she is doing the PCT solo. You want to know what I was doing when I was 19?

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Basically, everyone thru-hiking under the age of 25 and figuring this all out on their own has my vote for president. Hi zucchs!!

The next day I woke up last and had a nice little morning. Our plan was to stay at another trail angels house that night. I was really excited to meet the Andersons, heard great things about them, but something was pulling me away from there. As everyone arrived at the Andersons, I continued to hike another 10 miles. I ended up in Lake Hughes, at a biker bar, in a bedroom fit for a child upstairs. It was kind of an awesome day, that ended with a baked potato (my only real craving so far).

The Rock Inn!

The Rock Inn!

A good pair-a-shoes lasts about 500 miles, so it was time to pick up my first new pair-a-shoes…in lake Hughes! I’ve been really excited about it, partly because my current pair-a-shoes were so chewed up and giving me many issues I could spend an insurmountable time bitching about, but mostly because SHOES and HUGHES rhyme and I’ve been jazzed about that connection.

I've never gone through a pair-a-shoes so fast! Is anyone sick of me referring to them as "pair-a-shoes" yet? Fand?

I’ve never gone through a pair-a-shoes so fast! Is anyone sick of me referring to them as “pair-a-shoes” yet? Fand?

Fine, I started with one pair-a-undies (kidding ?) and I lost them weeks ago. I asked my mom to throw in one pair for me. She, like many others, can’t fathom a life without underpants, so she sent me 2 pairs of black silk granny panties. She also sent me a tube of 100+ SPF sunblock. Spoon said it best, “wow, Claire really knows how to keep both the melonoma AND men away in one small package.”

I thought about keeping the extra pair and using it as a ground cloth for my tent, you know, for both an extra layer of insulation and to preserve the life of the tent floor. But, unfortunately, a sacrifice had to be made.

Note reads: "What! No underwear?? You'll get a bad rash!"

Note reads: “No underwear?? You will get a bad rash!” ? Thanks for the laugh momma!

Oh, right, hiking. The next couple days were light and fun. We hit the 500 Mile mark!!! I had a vision of making a music video, told the crew about it the night prior, and we executed it in one take the next day at the site. I’ve never been so proud.

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In the middle of the week we upped our game a bit. How many miles we do a day is mostly based on where the water sites are. It’s not uncommon in this section to go 20+ miles with no water. On Wednesday, we dedicated ourselves to our biggest mileage day yet, 27 big ones. The first 9 were rolling and lovely, then, well, I don’t know what happened. The next thing I remember is Centerfold offering everyone delicious vegan protein birthday cake cookies his mom (Hi Kit!) sent him. I then crawled into my tent (conveniently located in the middle of a Wind Farm) and fell asleep to gentle lull of my rain-fly slapping all over the place.

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I wish. No, it really wasn’t that bad, just really flat, exposed, hot, and super dry. Did I mention we are hiking through a wind farm? Pretty cool for a mile, then you realize how God-forsakingly windy WIND FARMS are, and the appeal is lost and gone FOREVER. First we walked along an aqueduct, then a pipeline, then a half paved/half dirt-road. I felt like a runaway kid from Stand By Me. I knew it’d be a mental toughness kind of day. I felt good for most of it, luckily my inner millennial surfaced and I listened to a fascinating podcast of the nutritional benefits of Algae, and then a lot of Whitney Houston. Made up some sweet new trekking pole dance moves as well.The corridor was wide open, a lot of space to get a little reckless with the poles.

Aqueduct pampering

Aqueduct pampering

Aqueduct facts or puns? Puns, for sure

Aqueduct facts or puns? Puns, for sure

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Good times had by all!

Good times had by all!

The funniest part of the day was that we planned to camp at the water source. What’s so funny you ask? Well we had no idea if the faucet was on or not. LA has been really kind to us with every so often turning off faucets only hikers really have access to. Some days they are on, others they are off. Drought? Wait, what? California is in a DROUGHT?!? Don’t worry guys, the water was on thankfully.

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We followed that day with a 23 mile climb back up to the high desert. It was fantastic. At the top of the mountain was a hiker hangout with CHAIRS and COLD WATER. There is this older gentlemen named Rocco that we’ve been around a lot lately. No one has actually seen him hike though, we just see him in towns, yet, he is somehow always ahead of us. Really nice and interesting guy, but always blowing our minds where he pops up. For instance, when I got to the water cache at the top of the mountain, there was Rocco, shirtless and reclined in the Adirondack lawn chair. Mirage? I thought so too, but nope, just Rocco hangin out in the desert. It’s always so good.

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The trivial week ended, as it should, at the Motel 6 in Mojave. PCT hiker discount! After apologizing for our all-around smell/dust pile, the manager exclaimed “don’t be silly, hikers are our FAVORITE, you guys don’t complain about a THING!” It was really nice to hear, and it is true. Most hikers I’ve come across are super gracious and polite people. We rely a lot on the kindness of strangers, and we always, always, pay it back. Look at us, changing the world! One Motel 6 at a time!  ?☀️?

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TGIF

Speaking of kindness, I have benefitted immensely from the kindness of two amazing friends this weekend. My friend Lisa sent me a huge box of goodies. This box was STACKED with all the hiker essentials. It was as if she has done a thru-hike herself? Wait, have you? Now THAT’D be something! The best gift was the 5 tshirts she made for the Mile 55 crew. All of us could not love them more, we feel like the coolest camp counsellors on the trail. We are over the moon excited to hike in these, thank you SO much Lisa! A friend I haven’t seen in years, so amazing to have your support.

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My other friend, Michelle, drove an hour, picked up my friends and I, took us to the post office, bought us lunch, laughed along with us, and then brought me back to her home in Bakersfield. It was unbelievable, Mich works full-time, has 3 ((adorableeeeee)) kids under the age of 6, an awesome husband, and she still found time to get her kitchen ready for my arrival: “okay I got avocados, honey, bananas, wine, and because I pretty much grew up with you McCloskeys, pizza and cookies n’ cream ice cream.” She even let me use the master bath and I sank into the most amazing lavender Epsom salt (thank you Lisa!) bubble bath. I couldn’t believe how incredible today has been. You wake up in a Mo-6 and end the day at a best friends house. Undeniably, the best part of this visit was the slice of home Michelle gave me, talking about our families memories together and current hot topics was exactly what I needed to reset and get ready for this last stretch of the desert. Thank you both so much! I really, really, don’t want to leave this bed.

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Pizza Party!

Sisters! ?

Sisters! ?

150 more miles, bring it on, Mojave.