Enter:Canada

Mile: 2,658

Day: 160

Location: Ella’s Bellas Bakery, Beacon, NY

Avocados: 57

Showers: 36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The coolest clouds

The coolest clouds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Last morning in my tent, selfie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Emotionally charged post coming soon.

 

 

 

Exit:California

Day: 108

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

Mile: 1,716.2

Avocado Count: 44

Shower Count: 24

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

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

Phew, just in time!

Phew, just in time!

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

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

All I need

All I need

California toes

California toes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm in the weeds!

I’m in the weeds!

Trail?

Trail?

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

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

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

The paved PCT

The paved PCT

Blackberries and raspberries!

Blackberries and raspberries!

Early bird and the worm!

Early bird and the Worm!

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

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

Good thing it was partly cloudy!

Good thing it was partly cloudy!

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'Mornin'

Mornin’

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

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Donna Saufley! A trail angel legend!

Donna Saufley! A trail angel legend!

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Oregon!

Oregon!

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

My fancy snobbish instant coffee that makes me FLY

My fancy snobbish instant coffee that makes me FLY

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

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

Monique and Bert enjoying some cola!

Monique and Bert enjoying some cola! And chairs!

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

Lithia water fountains! So cool

Lithia water fountains! So cool

Southern Oregon University

Southern Oregon University

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

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Life is good when your day ends at a lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Okay fine seriously?

Spoon/Chuckles: 1 week behind

Centerfold: 3-4 days behind

Camel: a few hours behind (dun dun dunnnn)

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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