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.

 

 

 

Butter.

Mile: 2,569

Day: 156

Location: Stehekin Valley Ranch, WA

Avocados: 56

Showers: 35

*Note: Since I am editing this on a desktop I am going to format the pictures so they are right side up for all desktop readers. My apologies for anyone who reads this on their mobile device.

I’ve done it. It took 2,569 miles, but I’ve completed my goal. I’ve walked straight into a town that belongs in a Nicholas Sparks Novel. The town of Stehekin, Washington. Screw Canada, I’m hanging up my boots. I have found paradise.

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Whoa whoa whoa, back it up Jules. What about that other town we can’t pronounce? Oh, Snoqualmie? No no the next one! Oh right, Skykomish! Yes, Skykomish, well that’s my favorite trail town TOO! Every trail town is my favorite trail town, just like every section is my favorite section. I guess you can say I’ve really learned how to live in the present.

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Okay, back to Skykomish because I haven’t told you about how much I loved it yet. The section from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass (Skykomish) was 72 miles. It was another cold and wet few days with a relief day of minor sunshine. Fall is in the air on blast. The nights have gotten down to low thirties, definitely below freezing at times. One night I woke up and starting slapping all of my gear that was exploded around me. I was freaking out. Why? Because everything was SO cold that I thought it was soaking wet. I knew it wasn’t raining but I was next to a lake so I figured the condensation snuck through my barricade of ultra-light tent walls and wanted me miserable. Turns out, nothing was wet, everything was just about frozen. Feels the same, if you’re wondering. Bear Claw told me she woke up the other night to have a sip of water and it hurt her teeth. Wintry nights and summery days, the temperature difference between the shade and the sun is about 75 degrees, give or take 65 degrees. Fact.

LISTEN TO ME COMPLAIN MORE ABOUT HOW COLD IT IS!

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Washington has been so challenging, which means it’s been incredibly rewarding. We are averaging 6,000′ elevation gain everyday, and usually the same amount of loss. What this means is that hikers are starting to bitch about their knees being sore. That’s all that means. Oh, and that the views are unbelievable and that the man calves I get to hike behind are even more carved out. Win win!

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness was amazing. 5 years ago I took a handsaw to my underwear and threw them off a ridge here. You should ask me about that story sometime.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness was amazing. 5 years ago I took a handsaw to my underwear and threw them off a ridge here. You should ask me about that story sometime.

I got to Stevens Pass after an easy morning of 7 miles. I saw about 5 hikers on the highway trying to hitch into the nearest town, Skykomish. I decided not to burst their bubble (who’s gonna pick up 6 people???) and go in the lodge at Stevens Pass to check my email and get a coffee — surely they’ll be gone within the hour so I can start my own hitching process. There’s only one place to stay in Skykomish, so I decided to be responsible and give them a call to book a room. JACKPOT – LAST ROOM! Henry, the owner, was so nice he even told me he knows a guy who can come pick me up as long as I do ONE thing: DON’T MOVE. Ugh, okay Henry fineeeeeeeeeee I’ll stay right here in this seated position indoors sipping on this warm caffeinated beverage, but only for you Henry!

suns out! put on your shorts and shake out your rain fly!

Suns out! Put on your shorts and shake out your rain fly!

I felt really lucky, and extremely posh. Chris came to pick me up within 20 minutes and as we left the parking lot I saw the same hikers on the highway trying desperately for a ride. Sometimes hitching a ride is so demoralizing that the only way to deal with it positively is by viewing it as a lesson in rejection. Think about it, if you can become comfortable with rejection you can rule the world. Another: Fact.

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I felt really guilty as we drove away and my fellow hikers threw their arms up in “what the f$&@” fashion. Well, we all make choices, and coffee is always the right one. After 2 hours I saw those guys in town only for them to be told there were no rooms left: ouch.

What a peaceful little stream crossing

What a peaceful little stream crossing

Skykomish is a super quiet and peaceful place. It has a laundromat, bar, hotel/restaurant, and a couple shops that are only open for 4 hours a week. Oh, and a huge loud train that goes by 20 times a day. BEEEEEPPPPPPPPPPPPPP.

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I fell in love with it right away. Henry gave me an “orientation” to the inn and I went to the post office to pick up 4 PACKAGES! I was feeling really popular with my arms full leaving the PO. I knew they were all coming and was psyched they were all there.

At my last resupply stop, Snoqualmie Pass, my package to myself and my friends package to me both didn’t make it to the Chevron. I was skeptical of the Chevron, and it proved me right. All the packages were thrown into a warm beer cooler in the back and the guy says “good luck.” Turns out, if the ETA isn’t within a couple days they don’t deliver it. Yeah, I still don’t understand how they would know. It was a disorganized mess, and after an hour of hauling boxes around looking for my name, I gave up. LUCKILY I saw my friend Lukes package. Luke, sorry, Bivvy, is a friend I met a long ways back, a Cartoonist from Ireland and just before he left for the trail, a published author! We hiked a lot together with Mile 55 in the Sierra but then I lost the group and he was lucky enough to keep pace with them. All I know is that Luke had to skip parts of Oregon so he was way ahead, so I told him I found his box and he told me if I needed food to just take it. It felt invasive, but I went for it. I also found it extremely hilarious that the first thing on top was a huge bottle of SPF 50, gotta love that Irish skin! Pretty amazing how we all look out for each other out here. You may not have seen a close friend in a 1,000 miles, but they are never far (awwwwwwwww).

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Okay BACK to Skykomish. I got a TON of candy from my friends and family. Lots of notes of encouragement and lots of warm fuzzy feelings. It was a solid trip to the post office. I feel so lucky to have the support system that I do, it makes this trail so much more fun, and so much easier.

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After drying out my gear in the backyard of the Inn, I went next door to the Whistling Post, the local dive bar to watch the NFL season opener. I sat at the bar and chatted with the locals and got the scoop on the family bar business as I watched the game. Then the best thing happened. Bear Claw and Lemonade (remember them from previous posts? The engaged couple from SF who took 2 weeks off in July to get married in Sierra City? The wedding I couldn’t go to because I was in the ER peeing blood? Good, because they’re BACK!) texted me saying they were next door eating dinner! I couldn’t believe it, I knew they were closing the gap quickly, but didn’t think I’d see them until here, in Stehekin, at the bakery they first told me about. BONUS, they caught me a town early! They met me at the bar and we drank lots and caught up. I haven’t seen them in 2 months, over a 1,000 miles at that point. We stayed in good contact and finally bridged the gap, we were very happy hikers in Skykomish.

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We grabbed breakfast and since they got in so late the previous night, they still had post office and laundry things to do, so I left a couple hours before them. As the trail would have it, I didn’t see them again until the morning we took the bus into Stehekin. The final 8 miles of the 108 mile butt-whooping section. They were consistently 5 miles behind me it seemed, but it was okay, because the biggest thing in our life was getting to the Stehekin Bakery together. And that, we achieved.

The girls going for it. Total ladies. Our moms back East are glowing with pride.

I left Skykomish a bit weighted down by the length and difficulty of the next section. 108 miles: 5 days 4 nights, and the most elevation gain/loss aside from the Sierra. The only bad weather day was going to be Sunday, so that was really comforting. The sun will be out! Woop!

So after an ice cream at the lodge, I started hiking at 1pm. Beautiful day, at that point we haven’t seen a sunny day like this in a long time, so it felt extra special. I hiked 15 miles and then ran into Raiden, Chapstick, and Big Bear, and we hiked into the late evening together towards Pear Lake. The sun was setting on Mt. Baker and we cruised into camp. About 8 other tents were already set up (hot spot!) but after a bit of searching I found one far enough away that I didn’t have to listen to a chorus of snoring – – success. They had a fire going and I hung out for a while (I know, how SOCIAL of me!) to see who was there. I finally met ALTA, and apparently “re-met” Polaris. Polaris is a really cool guy. He looked at me and says “Toe Touch, yes, Toe Touch, we met at the side of 3-Fingered Jack in mid to late August right around lunchtime.” My mouth was agape. Was he right? Yes, yes he was. I didn’t recognize him, but he was part of a group I had lunch with that day on the side of the trail, which just so happened to have an epic view of 3-Fingered Jack (a mountain in Oregon, by the way). Astonishing. I will say, hiking IS very good for the memory.

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got it.

got it.

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NOOOO, can it be? nahhh it's a joke

NOOOO, can it be? nahhh it’s a joke

It's true! It's true! What a cool toilet!

It’s true! It’s true! What a cool toilet!

I slept like a rock and woke up to a dry tent, Eureka! Left camp at 8 and never saw any of those people again until, you guessed it, the bus ride to the Stehekin Bakery (I’m gonna see how many times I can mention this bakery in one post). It was sunny all day and dare I say, hot out. The trail was fun and challenging, with ridges and views galore. The colors were of blue, green, red, orange, and yellow. So clear, so fun. I sat on a rock with an stellar backrest, tore apart my backpack, and enjoyed an apple with peanut butter. My friends Yodeler and Trigger (awesome French couple) hiked by and that was the start to seeing them very often throughout the section. This was all in Glacier Peak Wilderness, quite possibly the most awe inspiring section of the trail.

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I bought this rock, I move in at the end of the month

I bought this rock, I move in at the end of the month

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After my lunch I hiked on, feeling sicker and sicker as the hours passed. First I got hit with nausea, then a headache, then overall weakness. I put on a podcast about Health for Female Endurance Athletes to try and distract me from my sickness but that only made it worse. A huge part of the podcast was about Amenorrhea or, not getting your period for over 90 days. This may be too much information for some, but I’ve already taken you through my whole journey since April, so why leave anything out now: I haven’t had my cycle since April, 2 weeks into the hike. Not surprising, my body is under constant physical stress with very little time to recover. It’s not healthy to go this long without a period, my hormones are as balanced as I’ve been able to keep them, but are clearly not functioning at an optimal level. This podcast had great information, but I couldn’t listen anymore, I tore out my earbuds. I felt so unhealthy. Fit but unhealthy. Gah. What is going ON in there!

I took a picture of this rock because I couldn't believe how flat it was.

I took a picture of this rock because I couldn’t believe how flat it was.

I got to the creek and decided to camp there. I was so weak at this point that it would be stupid to walk anymore. Besides, 2 ladies section hiking said they were going to camp at this creek, and it would be nice to have their company while I’m not feeling well. They are a bit older, and I took great comfort in that. I got to camp and with no one else there, went far into the brush and barfed. Didn’t take much, came right out. And since I’ve decided to tell you everything, you should know that it looked like chunky black tar. It was as if I threw up a dead organ. I was so disturbed. I’m surprised I didn’t shed a tear from the fear I felt in my gut. Because clearly, I’m on the brink of death. Good thing I have nice older ladies to give me comfort in the night. If my mom can’t be here with ginger ale and wonder bread toast, two strangers will do. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled with their new designated task for the evening.

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I poked around at my vomit because I wanted to know what I had just lost. It HAD to be the peanut butter, I MUST have overdone it! But why then, is it BLACK. So perplexed. It just made me feel worse about myself. My body is dying from the inside out and telling me to give it a REST. And I understand, recovery is so important. Rest is so important. But so is Canada. And I’ve been pushing my limits all summer in so many different ways, it can wait another week.

Here's a pretty picture of a flower plant berry thing to take your mind off of my dead organs.

Here’s a pretty picture of a flower plant berry thing to take your mind off of my dead organs.

Fortunately, I went through my chores that night trying to forget what just came out of my body. I was actively erasing it from my memory. I cautiously ate dinner and thankfully slept really well. I never needed to bother the sweet old ladies. I left the next morning at 8 and it was foggy, wet, and frigid. It was a really challenging morning to get moving. I still felt weak, but capable of hiking. Not that it mattered, this section is so remote there was no way out even if I did leave my dead liver on the forest floor last night. We were deep in the wilderness all week, and you know I wasn’t about to turn around.

The morning was rough. It was raining and the trail was gutted and terrible. I slipped and fell 3 times, with one of them in slow motion watching my knee twist in a very bad way. I yelled a bad word and forced myself back up. I put pressure on my knee and it responded like a champ, I’m good, I got this. I was going up and over and under downed trees and just trying to survive the morning, doing everything I could to control my thoughts. Only let the good ones in, and dismiss the bad ones right away. By noon, the rain stopped and the sun fought to come out. A guy passed me saying “Congratulations! Nothing can stop you now!” I stopped and looked at him. Big smile. I returned it. He’s right, after being punched in the gut all morning, it still wasn’t going to stop me from getting to Canada. At this point, the PCT can have its way with me, it’s just simply not going to matter. I will continue to battle it out and laugh at it as much as possible. Even when my barf and poop looked really similar back to back. Ahhhh goddddd nooooo CMON julez! Sorry, I’m a thru-hiker, and all we talk about is food and poop. Why should my blog be any different?

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Can you IMAGINE what this must have sounded like when it fell?!?!

Looks good to me. Hiked it.

Looks good to me. Hiked it.

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So this day, Sunday, September 11th (perspective played a big role in getting me out of the gutter as well) was starting to look up. The sun came out and I climbed 6,000 feet before 12:30. A nice lady took my photo at the top and we hiked together for a little bit of the descent, then I raced on. I had 3,000 more feet to climb and then 3,000 more to descend before camp. I was feeling SO much better, and getting really excited for another long climb. By the end of the day I was camped next to a creek, having gone up (and down) 9,000 feet in 27 miles, and had my appetite back. Phew. What a day. Not sure I’ve ever had to overcome so much in one tiny little 12 hour period. Bring on the deadlines, the stress, the poor team dynamics, the scheduling issues, time management, chronic conflict — bring it all on society, or “real world.” I’d be shocked to see how rattled you can make me. Thru-hikers have to be the most desired employees in the world.

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The next day I did 29 miles and the average 6,000 gain. Standard. The Northern Cascades have been breathtaking. One of my favorite sections of the trail! (Hah!) I was camped 8 miles from the ranger station where the bus would pick us up to go to the BAKERY and then to the “town” of Stehekin. I slept until 8:45 because frankly, I didn’t need to leave camp before 9:30. Well, in comes Bear Claw and Lemonade already 10 miles into their day (they woke up at 5 to frost on their tent, I slept for another 4 hours it seems, lazy.) All I hear is “Is that Toe Touch?” I yelped “Yeah!” And stuck my head out really happy to see them. They both looked at their watches at the same time and asked me, politely, what the hell I was doing. “There are CINNAMON ROLLS to be eaten and we mustn’t miss the 12:30 bus!” I said dontttt worryyyyy I got this! Save me a seat! They scampered off and I was on trail within 30 minutes. It reminded me of an ABC Family sitcom where the parents are always trying to get their kid out of bed in time for the bus, and the kid is just like gahhhhhhhhh. But instead of catching the bus to school, I was catching the bus to the bakery, where I’ve heard tales for 1500 miles of cinnamon rolls and sticky buns larger than my head. And I got a big head.

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Appropriately enough, I got to the bus stop with 40 MINUTES to spare (thank you, thank you) and all the hikers were sitting on the picnic table clipping their nails. Classic.

Chapstick and Big Bear enjoying their Cinnamon Roll snack

Chapstick and Big Bear enjoying their Cinnamon Roll snack

We rode in front of the bus, per Bear Claws demand since mile 1,325 (we’ve talked about this bakery a lot in our short friendship). The bus stops at the bakery and gives you 10 minutes to get in and get out! Next bus doesn’t come for another 3 hours so if you want to stay, go for it, but there’s no cell service or wifi, so you better either be REALLY hungry or have a good book. Or borrow one of theirs and plan your next adventure…

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I struggled. Bear Claw and Lemonade led the pack and were first in line. Feeling the heat, they made excellent and efficient choices. One of everything. And a slice of pizza. Bear Claw even had time to circle back and coach me through my decision, Cinnamon Roll or Sticky Bun? Gah! But what about a kale salad? Can I have that to go? Will he be able to pack it before the bus leaves? Bear Claw both heard and saw my indecisiveness, told me I was on the struggle bus big time and deserted me. Thanks for your support, pal.

Sticky Bun. And Kale Salad. To-go. Oh and Coffee. Please. Thank You. Swipe. Exhale. Smile. Cheer. High-Five.

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So happy with my decision. I had a couple bites of my bun on the bus and it was delectable. So buttery and gooey and moist and buttery and caramelly and buttery. It was heaven. I ate my Kale salad first and then we got to Stehekin. Lemonade bought a bottle of Reisling (it was either wine or hard Apple ciders, the last batch of hikers drank ALL the beer, hah! Imagine that!) and Bear Claw gathered Adirondack Chairs. We sat on the deck of the lodge. Big bear, Chapsick, Raiden, Lemonade, Bear Claw and myself. Transfixed by the accomplishment of the insanely physical last 108 miles, the sparkling waters of Lake Chelan, passing around a bottle of wine, drinking coffee on the side, devouring our monster pastries. I can only speak for myself, but it was quite clear the feeling was mutual, it was one of the best moments of the summer.

Lemonade and Bear Claw enjoying Adirondack Chairs, Ice Cream, Wine, and really good lighting

Lemonade and Bear Claw enjoying Adirondack Chairs, Ice Cream, Wine, and really good lighting

We dedicated that time to just relax. After the wine was gone we got a group campsite and then hit up the post office and ran other “errands.” Basically we went to the post office and then jumped in the lake. It was cold for sure, but the clear green/blue waters were so inviting. The sun was sparkling off the lake and we all stripped down to our skivvy’s and dove in. We laid out on the boat launch dock for awhile, allowing the sun to hit our stomachs and backs and dare I say it, thighs, for the first time all summer. We passed around a bag of Juanitas, everyone had a 4-pack of ciders, and we continued to be obsessed with the day.

The lodge

The lodge

We got dinner at the lodge. Lots of hikers around so we ended up with a table of 10. It was so much fun, the overall energy of the hikers is bittersweet. I would say most are very much ready to be done hiking for awhile. I for one am ready to wake up and NOT have to hike all day everyday. That will be a great little feeling. I am excited to start running again, doing more recreational sports, pursuing other passions. But how can one NOT miss this life? It’s unlike any other. And you only get to experience it if you’re one of the few who have made it this far, who have overcome all the tough times, who have kept a positive mindset, who have committed to it long ago, and never, ever, given up on it. I’m grateful for it everyday. I love it so much. But I’m ready for at least an intermission. A long, intermission.

7th and final National Park!

7th and final National Park!

Can you believe I saw my first rattlesnake at mile 2,569 in the town of Stehekin? How does that work? Damnit!

Can you believe I saw my first rattlesnake at mile 2,569 in the town of Stehekin? How does that work? Damnit!

My friends left the next morning, and I stayed put. They will finish a day before me, but there’s a great chance of seeing them in Vancouver to celebrate. I think Laura would be kind of pissed if she booked a flight and rented a car just to see me walk out of Manning Park Lodge showered, drunk, and in real clothes. No, no, I am trying to time it so I am stinky, drunk, and in the same clothes she sent me in Northern California. She deserves that much, right?

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Thanks leesh for the calories!

Thanks Alicia for the package of calories!

I took the following day off and rented a bike to ride to the bakery. I spent 3 hours at the bakery writing letters and postcards. I stopped at a tiny organic farm on my way back and bought a peach and a pear. I returned my bike after taking in the lovely feeling of being on 2 wheels. Stehekin is a community only accessible by foot, boat, or bus. There is no cell service anywhere. There is only wifi if you pay to stay at either the Lodge or the Ranch.

Here I am, at the Ranch. I am in a “tent cabin” with no electricity. I have a canvas roof and a kerosene lamp. The bathroom is in another building. I have a bed, a night table, and a hammock. The floor is concrete, the walls are wood paneling, and the windows are more canvas that button to the walls. There is no lock on the door. There IS a fire extinguisher. I love this place. I got a big ole Ranch Roast for dinner and apple crispy for dessert. All made on site, I actually smelled the beets cooking while in the shower. Talk about a top moment. I ate dinner at a large table and made friends with a huge group of retirees here for a 2-day hike. The food was probably the best quality I’ve had on trail. It was so fresh. The Internet connection is terrible so I won’t be able to publish this blog post until Canada. Canada is 89 miles away. Well, the Monument (where I’ll be having a huge photo shoot) is only 80 miles away. Manning Park is 89 miles away. Either way, that is 3 nights. 3 back-country nights left. 2 nice days, 2 very bad weather days. America is literally going to kick my ass out of my own country.

Jesus take the wheel.

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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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