Location: Wassayaks Real Coffee Craft, Mt. Shasta, CA
Miles: 1,498.7 (so.close.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…