Proud.

2,658 Miles            159 Days          36 Showers         57 Avocados      

489,418′ Elevation Gain

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

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

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

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All done!

All done!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The morning after.

The morning after.

Richard and Jean!

Richard and Jean!

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

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

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

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

My favorite 2 words

My favorite 2 words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toe Touch: OUT!

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

In no particular order of frequency…

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

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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One-Thousand.

Day: 90

Location: Cup of Cherries Coffee House, South Lake Tahoe

Mile: 1090

Showers Taken: 19

Avocado Count: 36

Note: this blog post is all over the place, I will be having less and less time in towns to post, so pictures will continue to be upside down and stories will continue to not make any sense. I appreciate your patience and understandings. Care about you.

Why can’t I sleep indoors? There’s no blood on the walls, I can spread my body out, I can control the climate, I can wipe with toilet paper, I don’t have to sleep on a smelly piece of rolled up clothing, I don’t lose feeling in my major muscle groups, I don’t have to sleep on rocks, and I don’t have to search for scary beady eyes when I get up to pee. You’d think I’d get to this bed and pass right out. I sure thought so too, but that hasn’t been the case this summer.

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What it comes down to is this: I replace writing in my journal with watching the Kardashians, I replace eating sprouted Mung Beans with eating pizza and ice cream, I replace the sound of a swiftly flowing creek with the sound of 18-wheelers, I replace staring at the stars to shoving my face in a suffocating (always too thick) pillow, I replace dinner-time jokes with again, the Kardashians. It’s no wonder. Why did it take me so long to hash this out? The luxuries of sleeping in a bed, indoors, and with a television will always reach for me, and will always be a treat. But damnit after 10 minutes in this bed I get restless and pathetically realize that even though I have no access to a TV, I’ve somehow already seen this episode of the Kardashians. Twice. And that POM is the most obnoxious sponsor of American Ninja Warrior.

The best ice cream in a carton. Fact.

The best ice cream in a carton. Fact.

Two things, we heard two things about this past section: The mosquitoes are at their worst, and it is the toughest physically. I brushed aside the mosquito part and got really amped up about how difficult it was going to be — after spending a week in Mammoth living like a member of American society, I needed to get my ass kicked, I WANTED to get my ass kicked. Fortunately, the trail kicked my ass. Unfortunately, the trail also bit my ass, several different times, by several different inhabitants. Whyyy I ouuuttttaaa. But seriously, who’s got the calamine lotion?!?

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Bugnet selfie after our first 30 mile day!

Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room here, the mosquitoes weren’t THAT bad, right? I mean I’m just laying here in a comfortable bed for the first time in 10 days and for the last time for much longer, and I can’t stop frantically itching my WHOLE body (have they no shame?). I’m using every body part as a scratching device but still thinking about how lucky we were that they weren’t, again, THAT bad. Why am I so full of it sometimes? Here I go about to put a positive spin on how the mosquitoes could have been WAY worse, while my skin crawls in agony (what are they injecting into my bloodstream?) This coming from a girl who spent the last part of her prayer cycle one night asking God why he created mosquitoes. As I drifted away during this particular prayer I decided that no, God, you do not believe in peace on earth, because you created mosquitoes. And that was probably my most monumental thought of the whole day. I then woke up to dozens of them attached to my tent screen waiting for me to reach for that zipper. Deserved that one. Little did they know that I purposely dehydrated myself the past few days so I wouldn’t have to pee at night OR until fully dressed in my flesh-covering attire in the morning, thus, never really having to leave my tent and subjecting myself to their ugly little bodies. Don’t worry, I don’t consider that a victory, but it does make me feel like I’m smarter than them, which I mean, I’ll take what I can give myself.

You know it's next level when even a smoky fire doesn't keep them away

You know it’s next level when even a smoky fire doesn’t keep them away

On the hiking side of things, this past section was breathtaking. We hiked into Yosemite and past its Northern boundary. We hiked over incredibly impressive rock work, more snow, past gorgeous alpine lakes, through muddy meadows, up and around and down sharp ridge lines, and through soft soiled forests. There was so much to see, so many smiles to erupt.

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The physically challenging part came with the extreme elevation gain/loss. We averaged between 3500-5000′ of gain each day, and usually with an equal amount of descent. Yep, you guessed it, straight UP, straight DOWN, one mile in the valley to stretch out the legs before another 1500′ straight UP, straight eh, you get it. Whenever we were blessed with flat terrain we kicked it up several notches to make up time. We were still in the Sierra but wanted to push our daily mileage, so we went kind of hard you can say.

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The last 3 days of the 9-day stretch were 25, 25, then a “what the hay” let’s end it with a bang, our first 30-miler! We had a group bet going early on who would hike the first 30-mile day. You should know ALL of our bets throughout the summer have been under the terms of Dairy Queen Blizzards. They are called “Blizzard Bets” and probably a new one gets betted on everyday between 2 of us. So many bets that we lost count because we have yet to see a DQ near the trail to cash in on. Now we just all owe each other a whole bunch-a-blizzards.

Blizzard betting support group

Blizzard betting support group

Point being, it was pretty special to reach the 30-mile milestone with Camel and Centerfold, in the Sierra, on the last day of the toughest section, in garbage shoes. Also, on the last day of us hiking together (they’ll catch me soon enough, but I’m leaving a day earlier than them from town). To be honest, I felt great, it was a feeling of euphoria for the last few miles as I swooped into camp right before 9pm. One of those banner days that won’t ever be forgotten.

Pushed these shoes 200 miles too long

Pushed these shoes 200 miles too long

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At this point in the trek, after a few days and reaching the 1,000 mile mark (woot woot!) I was with the boys, Centerfold and Camel. Spoon and Chuckles had to hitch into a town for a resupply, and the boys and I planned for a longer jaunt, and did the last 150 miles together. We are both best of friends and worst of enemies. Best of friends because we’ve been hiking together for so long that our connection and communication is almost at a point of effortlessness. We have each other dialed in, we are no longer surprised if someone says “I’ll be right back” and not see them till morning. We are 3 very independent creatures, who fortunately enough, make one heck of a team. I’m always the last to leave camp, except one particular morning last week when, to both our surprise, I walked past Centerfold with his tent still up. No “Good morning Toe Touch! How’d you sleep? How the feet feelin?” Nope, I got a look of astonishment and an “aw man I’m the last to leave? This sucks.” This made me laugh for the whole first mile of the day, Centerfold is the most organized and efficient member of Mile 55 (he’s the type of guy who actually uses the dresser drawers in motel rooms) and has NEVER been the last to leave camp in over 1,000 miles. Chuckles and I used to joke and say we should all leave incredibly early one morning just to mess with him.

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Welp, time for a snack!

Welp, time for a snack!

The boys and I would leap-frog eachother most of the days, taking breaks at different times, performing camp and hygiene chores in different streams and rivers. Every night one of them made a campfire to keep the mosquitoes away so we didn’t have to eat in the solitude of our tents. I’ll admit it, I played the “girl card” and tended to my feet and bug bites in my tent while they gathered logs and sticks for the fire. I would then magically appear once the fire was ablaze and THEN ask if I could help in any way. Admitting this doesn’t get me off the hook, but it’s not like they didn’t know what I was doing anyways. Again, we’re a great team! Hah (sorry guys).

Sleeping on a bed of rocks

Sleeping on a bed of rocks

We would hike our minimum mileage set for ourselves (22ish) and then add bonus miles until we found a campsite with a fire ring. We were each others worst enemies because we all have this thing where we don’t like to be outdone by other people, we are constantly striving for more. This similar trait in all of us came in handy as we all need to increase our mileage if we want to be home for Christmas. As Spoon and Centerfold would say in their daily satirical morning pump-ups “alright guys lets PUSH THE ENVELOPE TODAY.” Basically, we hiked into the late evening hours, laughed in misery about the mosquitoes, told each other how “pretty” we looked in our bug headnets, discussed our favorite climb of the day, threw out some jokes on Chuckles and Spoons behalf because remember, they weren’t there, and tallied up how many times we slipped and fell on our butts that day. Camel would then whip out the elevation profile for the the next day, tell us how flat it was going to be, then Centerfold would look at the map and label it in one quick word: “easy,” and then we’d hike up several mountains right outta the gates and repeat the same process. It was my favorite section thus far.

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Three days, THREE days in a row we received trail magic. I didn’t realize we would cross a  paved road once each day. Turns out, trail angels like to set up camp there and feed us! It was unbelievable, the last 3 days and the highest mileage ones, we hiked right into picnic tables of food in the middle of the day. Two days in a row I had a bowl of cereal, Chipmunk even had almond milk for it!

IPODS picnic table of trail magic at Sonora Pass!

IPODS picnic table of trail magic at Sonora Pass!

"I bought 149 bananas, if you want one, check the banana cooler" - Chipmunk

“I bought 149 bananas, if you want one, check the banana cooler” – Chipmunk

The pattern with trail magic food spreads (that I am really, really enjoying) is that it is all my favorite foods from growing up. Captain Crunch, packaged pastries, soda, Oreos, Nacho chips, American cheese, 4th of July mini cupcakes, and of course, DUPLEX COOKIES.

Most fulfilling of days, these people are so amazing

Most fulfilling of days, these people are so amazing

It’s amazing, comforting, and so familiar. As Chuckles pointed out in her recent blog post (which made us all cry, by the way) we have reached a point where homesickness is inevitable. The excitement of the start is long gone, the excitement for the Sierra is over, and the excitement for Canada is far too out of reach. We all miss our friends, families, and kitchens. You give up a lot of freedoms to be out here, and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything, so it is just another challenge to overcome. Letters, texts, and packages from friends and family help immensely. I can’t think of a better pick-me-up. In Tuolomne I received a “vintage” (still think it’s a top thrifty find but she’ll never confess) Moose, Wyoming tee from my coffee obsessed, happy houring roomie in Jackson. Halez has become my personal fashion designer for the trail, basically everything I wear she made, it’s pretty freakin awesome. I also got package of yummy foods (and Finding Dory) band-AIDS from my beautiful friend Maureen whom I met in Australia what? 8 years ago? Incredible friend, heart of gold and so incredibly thoughtful. (She made me say that if I want more Scooby Snacks).

Hangin' in Tuolomne!

Hangin’ in Tuolomne!

Friends that become family, I have felt this way about Chuckles (Maggie), Spoon (Mark), Centerfold (Jon) and Camel (Dugan) since April 12th. They’ve been my trail family, they are the 4 people I am so proud to tell people “no, you don’t get it, we STARTED together, we were friends before this, crazy right?” Well, today is the day we split. I left 3 notes along the trail last week for Chuckles and Spoon, the last one being a classic Toe Touch love letter, left under a rock at their trail exit point. I am afraid those are the 2 I won’t see until MAYBE Washington, and so that goodbye was really hard for me. They have been so incredible, and I’m so glad Chuckles has a blog so I can follow along more closely. I am so excited for them. I am also so very hopeful they will literally pop out of nowhere in the next 1,000 miles. I just don’t know what I’m gonna do at night without Chuckles obnoxious royal blue #downhat and without Spoon telling me how many hours of daylight we have left. Gosh, I’m gonna miss them.

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Camel and Centerfold will for sure catch me sooner than later, so after a few beers last night I said goodbye. Those guys have been my brothers out here, and I look forward to being their “carrot” as Camel would say (he’s still working on the proper metaphor, stay tuned) and to trip and have a smartass comment “walk much” come from Centerfold. For now, I’m off to “melt some miles.” I sent home 5lbs of winter gear yesterday. I sent it all home in my bear canister, I told my dad there was a note inside for him. I can’t wait to hear how bad he struggles trying to open it, I can hear Kyle laughing next to him as Bob gives up and chucks it at him. Ah, the little things, the little things.

No one better mess with my favorite sticker...HOT LAPS!

No one better mess with my favorite sticker…HOT LAPS!

Mile 55, I love you! Mission Creek: never forget*

ADIOS!