Crooked Trails

I picked my brother up from the airport in Las Vegas where we spent a weird night at a strange AirBnB in a creepy cookie-cutter neighborhood before hitting the road, due east.

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Snagged a couple elusive permits to Coyote Buttes

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Due to a mysterious swelling and pain in my right foot and ankle that I refused to acknowledge in any real way, Brett drove to us Springdale, Utah while I propped the offending limb on the dashboard. The drive was long and unbearably hot through the rocky emptiness of eastern Nevada, the wheezing air conditioner undecided about it’s working order.

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Getting a taste for the dirtbag life–camping on a BLM dirt road somewhere in Utah

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Went to sleep to this view.

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After squaring away our logistics for the following days on the trail, we wove back through the tourist-dense streets, back down the two lane highway winding parallel to the crumbling red cliffs, and pulled off onto a poorly marked BLM road, kicking up dirt and gravel and driving until we couldn’t drive anymore.

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Creepin’

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Descending into Zion Canyon

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Quick afternoon trip up to Bryce Canyon

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Morning break in Zion

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Though our primary hike for Brett’s trip out was pulling off the Zion Traverse in two days, we filled the unplanned days that followed on whim and wind—chance permit lotteries, recommendations from fellow travelers met on remote and unkempt dirt roads, following paths with no markings at all, following the land when the trails ran out—we nearly forgot we’d been to Zion at all. We forgot what time it was, what day it was, we teetered between Utah and Arizona so often that we forgot which state we were in.

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Trekking the Paria Canyon

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Watch out for the not-super-quick-more-like-moderately-paced sand!

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Sinewy boulders

After dropping Brett off so he could head back to the Midwest, I continued back south and west. Sunburnt and sticky with sweat, I was hot and irritated as I crossed back into California. On impulse, I headed back to a place I’d been before.

The last time I’d been on Mt. San Jacinto, I was thru-hiking the PCT. It was startling how well I remembered the switchbacks—how similar they looked as it snowed on that early May morning, how the familiar weight of my pack begged me back down the mountain, back to the coffee shop, on to another city. I hadn’t bagged the peak in 2015 (mostly due to the AZDPCTKO hangover with which I’d hitch-hiked back with Idyllwild), but I was there to reclaim a memory. To make a place mine that I’d inadvertently given to someone else a while back. It didn’t work, and mostly I was cold and sore and hungry.

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purple buff life

After meeting a friend in Culver City, I dropped in at the infamous Anderson’s Casa de Luna to volunteer for a couple days. Heating up taco salad mix and tossing pancakes and hearing the top line trail gossip from this year’s hikers had me missing the lifestyle and the people something fierce, and as I dropped off the last group at the trail head, a visceral desire to abandon my car and my newfound job and head off to trod that same path behind them was almost overwhelming.

Fiddling with the finicky A.C., I drove north to Three Rivers. There was a flat hat and a summer in the wilderness waiting for me just beyond the sign: Welcome to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks!

notes from the road

(Post from April 28, 2017)

I woke up to frost on my windshield. On the inside of my windshield, that is. Outside, a short cargo train scraped slowly along a set of tracks I failed to notice when I parked on an empty dirt road last night, the passing locomotive’s chattering wheels pulling me out of sleep every forty-five minutes.

I sat up, wrenched my arms quickly through the sleeves of my puffy coat and fished around my sleeping bag for the beanie I’d worn to bed. Though I’ve been living out of Luna for a while now, I still don’t quite have my system dialed in. I can never find my pocket knife, phone charger, or toothbrush, and I somehow lost the first aid kit I meticulously assembled after my WFR course in January.

It’s cold, but there’s coffee to be made and elk wandering the field across the road.

I didn’t intend to get as far south as Flagstaff, but after a few long days hiking at the Grand Canyon, I needed a shower and a meal with vegetables in it.

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The Colorado River–the great sculptor of this incredible canyon

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Descending 4000′ to the canyon floor

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I pulled up to the Backcountry Office at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon fifteen minutes before they closed, and despite the acute dissuasion from the ranger on duty, snagged an elusive overnight permit for the North Rim the next night. I planned to hike the Rim to Rim (to Rim) trail–24 miles and about 5,000′ of elevation change each way.

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AMS, dehydration, and hyponatremia warning signs all over the Grand Canyon

As one of the busier parks in the nation, I’m sure its well intended, but there’s a fair amount of fear-mongering perpetuated by the Park Service. I had to sign a waiver acknowledging that I was completing this hike against expert advice, and that I understood what I was getting into.

I knew it was gonna kick my ass, but I also knew that I could do it.

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Life on the road can be mercurial, and I often wonder what it is, exactly, that I’m doing. Sometimes I have to spell it out for myself: seeing friends, hiking new trails, skidding down rocky forest service roads, meeting new people, experiencing new things. That adventure lifestyle, or so it’s billed.

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Hiking near Lee’s Ferry

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Here there be dragons

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Bugs need homes, too. Red Rocks, NV

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I met a group of backcountry skiers outside of Independence, CA on an 8-day trek into the Sierra

Sometimes I pull off down an unkempt BLM roads and follow it, sometimes dozens of miles, till it stops. I pull out the broken lawn chair I found in Tahoe and set it in the dirt and open a novel or my sketchbook or just watch the breeze tickling the long dry grass.

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Putting the Sierra in my rearview… for a couple weeks

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A hike up the White Mountains offered this view of the Sierra across Owen’s Valley

I think about that grass in the breeze, or where all the bighorn sheep are and why I haven’t seen one yet, or whether I brought enough water, or where the hell I put my pocketknife this time, and I try to be present. I try, sometimes, not to think of other things. But they tug, as they always do, in my weakest moments, and I wonder why I’m really here. In this hundreds-of-thousands of acres of open land, sitting alone in a rusty broken lawn chair with a stuffy nose and sunburnt shoulders and a hiking shirt crinkly with salt.

And I’m not sure. The beauty of these spaces, the simplicity of this lifestyle, the intrigue of novelty, the people surrounding me–all these things, certainly.

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Morning coffee

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Bristlecone pines–here lie not only the oldest trees, but the oldest organisms on Earth. The old tree, the Mesthuselah, is nearly 5,000 years old.

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And I wonder how much is motivated by a desire for atonement. A way to make amends for decisions I’ve made and roads I’ve turned away from in the name of “doing my own thing”; a way to try to escape my own shame for the things I’ve said or done–or didn’t say, or didn’t do; to make peace with the things I’ve messed up out of naïveté or anger or selfishness.

As eminent travel scholar Kerouac writes, “I have nothing to offer anybody but my own confusion.”

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Ironic litter in Death Valley

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Sunrise in the Great Basin

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Life with Luna

I’m parked on a dirt road a few dozen miles north of Lassen Volcanic National Park, the namesake peak barely visible in the night sky, wreathed in stars.

From the backseat of my car, a little string of LED lights hanging over my head, my fingers are cold as I scribble in my notebook. I suppose I should mention that when I say “backseat” what I really mean is “bed-length platform with a sleeping pad.” That’s right, y’all, I’ve joined the #VanLife movement. Well, sort of.

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Taking it easy with Luna the Highlander at the base of Steens Mountain

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This is Job. Named after the guy in the Bible who totally got screwed over, he’s a prayer plant who lives in the passenger seat/on the back table/upended at the back of my car. I’ve put him through a lot, and he’s never wavered.

I got sick of paying Seattle’s exorbitant and ever rising rent, bought a Toyota Highlander, decided to call her Luna, and putzed around my friend’s shop for a few days, drinking Rainiers and providing moral support while he tricked it out for me. It’s a little cramped, but its dry and cozy and it can manage most of those gnarly BLM and Forest Service two tracks I’ve found myself following more recently.

I took off from Seattle last Thursday, and I don’t know when (or if, really) I’ll be back. Through a stroke of luck, more than a little self-advocation, and leaving a lot of voicemails, I landed a seasonal job as a wilderness park ranger in California’s Sierra Nevada. It still feels pretty surreal; I keep waiting for something to go awry with my paperwork or the position with lose funding. I am beyond excited to live amongst those stocky granite peaks which both so fueled me and conquered me as I clambered up their desolate passes two years ago.

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Spent a day camped out on the playa of the Alvord Desert in southeast Oregon

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Looking south to the Pueblo Mountains and into Nevada. Here, there are no trails past the muddy, clay-filled two tracks that curl along the base of these hills. A remote land of old-school ranchers, it’s hard to believe this places hardly sees any dedicated recreation.

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Since leaving Washington’s dreary skies last week, I’ve swerved south, east, west, east again, and further south, chasing the sunshine that’s so elusive in the Pacific Northwest, visiting friends, ordering up blackberry milkshakes at general store counters in remote towns, pulling off onto unnamed dirt roads to snag a hike or a snowshoe or just set up shop for the rest of the day.

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Steens Mountain

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Tumalo Falls; Bend, OR

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Lots of post-holing on this hike up to catch a glimpse of Three Fingered Jack in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness

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Wiley the crag dog; climbing and hiking at Smith Rock

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An intimidating view of the Strawberry Mountains near John Day, OR

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Reconnected with a fellow classmate from the Wilderness First Responder course I took for a day of hiking and climbing at Smith Rock.

There’s a place on the PCT I haven’t stopped thinking about since my thru-hike in 2015. There are a lot of sections I’ve thought of often, but there was some quality to these memories–some intermittent but vivid snapshots of the day it took to traverse–that drew me back to the place. It’s not particularly beautiful; the trail here is inhospitable and exposed, a nearly 30 mile dry stretch comprised almost exclusively of gritty volcanic rock and cow pies, it wanders a geologic rim not far south of the town of Burney, CA.

So I went back. It wasn’t especially meaningful or fulfilling, nor was it any more pleasant than in my memory. The unforgiving sun curdled my pale skin and water evaporated off my lips, leaving them chapped and bleeding, and I was surprised how specifically I recalled even the small twists and turns of the trail.

Maybe there’s something to reliving one of my more miserable days on trail. Maybe there was something I felt like I needed to conquer, or needed to remind myself I could still persevere. Whatever the reason, it felt good to be home, there on that small boot path, back when I knew where I was going.

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Hiking the Hat Creek Rim

Though this lifestyle has its perks–freedom, openness, new opportunity for community and connection, and minimalism, I’ve found it exacerbates some of my more muted stresses. Having a place to be. An inherent loneliness. A seated feeling of rootlessness that is at once both exhilarating and isolating. I’m not sure how this life will pan out for me–the van life or life in general–but I’ve spent the last year figuring out how to be ok with that. I might not be ready to embrace the unknown, but she’s in the passenger seat, and for now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Met up with a PCT friend for beers and foods and good views of Lake Tahoe

Unfinished Business

 

“Yo, Suds,” Double Dip unceremoniously threw her gear into the trunk of my car and clambered into the passenger seat, “how’ve you been?”

It was 6:20 on a Saturday morning, the cloudless sky bright to my sleep-filled eyes. I rubbed them. Yawned. Started the car.

“Hanging in there,” I said, unsure how to encapsulate the last ten months into a palatable synopsis.

Ten months give or take a few days, since we’d reached the northern terminus of the PCT. It felt at once impossibly long ago, and yet as if we’d only just made a resupply stop in town.

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The July sun rose above the trees as we drove, leaving Seattle’s city limits, the roads empty and quiet. We curved off the expressway into a suburb north of the city to meet up with a four other thru-hikers from our year. We were headed out to hike a 109-mile stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail from Steven’s Pass to Stehekin, through the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Last summer’s Wolverine Fire, encompassing over 62,000 acres at it’s height, closed off this section of the trail for several weeks, forcing hikers to wait it out or, as we did, take the ferry from Chelan to Stehekin and continue our hike from there.

Nomad and Rattles greeted us in the parking lot of their apartment building, followed by Ricky Bobby, recently flown in from Michigan to complete the section, and Radish who’d driven up from Bend to join the adventure. After working out a few travel logistics, we piled into a couple of cars and headed out, our voices betraying giddy excitement.

The year seemed to melt away as we fell back into the routine of the trail. It was awkward at first. Our packs were weighty, our ankles contorted, unaccustomed feet stumbling over stone and soil. But after an hour it felt like we’d never left. We moved quickly, stopping to bandage up hotspots and threatening blisters, tending to some pains and ignoring others. Complaining equally about the long climbs and the steep descents; the thickets of vines and thorny shrubs overgrowing the trail; the blow downs and loose rock; the mosquitos and bees and gnats and the thousands of insects for which we didn’t have names.

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It was the happiest I’d been all summer. Even in those arduous afternoons when I had to remind myself that I signed up for this, I couldn’t help grinning like an idiot. Reintegrating into the “normal” world after my thru-hike proved difficult, and being back on the trail among friends to whom I didn’t have to explain myself was invigorating.

We rehashed our favorite trail memories as we rounded the majestic Glacier Peak, coveted one another’s snacks, and slowed down in the late afternoons to forage the almost-ripe huckleberries and salmonberries and wild blueberries. Our conversation quickly fell into the trail routine: how many miles are we going to hike today? Is everyone staying regular? How many pastries are you going to get at the bakery in Stehekin? How many feet of elevation?! I was thinking Ramen with peanut butter—what are you having for dinner?

We spoke about our more recent adventures, but how nothing quite added up to thru-hiking. About how we’d come to relish the nomadic lifestyle, even in its loneliness. Pushing our limits, physical and mental every day. Waking up on the shores of reflective alpine lakes and hitching into remote towns for pancakes and beer and cresting difficult passes only to be rewarded with another incredible vista. How special the ordinary things became—a clean load of laundry, a shower, a cold soda, an apple—we learned to savor the small pleasures.

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People choose to thru-hike for myriad reasons—the physical challenge, the beauty of nature, the accomplishment in itself, mental and emotional healing from military deployment or addiction or a broken heart. “I’ve never finished anything I’ve started,” another hiker confided as we neared the monument at the Canadian border last fall. “Not school, not work projects, not a relationship. This will be the first real thing I feel proud of. The first real thing I’ve finished.”

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When I left the southern terminus last spring, I didn’t know why I was hiking. Not at first. With only two short backpacking trips and a handful of hikes under my belt, I was walking into the unknown. But I knew I had to do something. I didn’t like myself and I didn’t know what to do about it.

The PCT seemed just crazy enough, just vast enough, just difficult enough to challenge the way I was thinking about myself and other people and to help my question the fundamental ways I was operating in the world.

And it was the hardest thing I’d ever done.

After a month or so, the physical difficulties fall to the wayside. You know you can make that fifteen-mile climb. You know your legs and shoulders and hips and feet can put up with a beating, and even as you test your limits, nothing seems completely out of reach. But the mental and emotional fortitude vital in reaching the northern terminus nearly broke me, and there were weeks wherein I wanted to quit every day. The effort of fashioning a person and a soul I wanted to live in entwined itself with the twelve-inch swath of dirt beneath my shoes, and the trail became a part of my story. A foundation on which to build a new self.

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“Lets just keep going,” Radish called out our final morning, hiking in the last four miles as a group. “Rainy Pass is only another eighteen miles!” We laughed, seriously considered it for half a moment before realizing we didn’t have enough food, work and family routines to return to, and flights to catch.

We clambered onto the bus to Stehekin and then the long ferry down Lake Chelan, our shorts sweat-stained and rank, legs scraped and bruised and sore, tired but happy smiles catching our chapped lips. We parted ways, slinging our packs one more time over weary shoulders. “See y’all up the trail,” I said.

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Originally written for and published by ALDHA-West, Fall Gazette

http://www.aldhawest.org/resources/Documents/Gazette/2016/Fall%202016%20Gazette.pdf

Loving & Being Present

I’m not sure if ya’ll’ve heard, but at some point in the next fifty years, the Pacific Northwest will experience an earthquake whose magnitude can only be described in multiple expletives (and also the seismic richter scale number 9.6). From Vancouver and Victoria, Seattle to Salem to San Francisco, geologists predict tsunamis that takes out the entire coast, rockslides covering roads and towns, and the impending eruption of the Cascadian volcanoes. In short, unless Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise suddenly use their fictional powers for good, 40,000 of us west coast dwellers are facing death or injury in the initial hours, another 1 million displaced, 2.5 million in need of food and water.

As a member of the “best coast” demographic and in my current physical location, I am poised to crumble along with this bluff and the family-of-four next door right down into Puget Sound.

Awesome.

Life in the wake of my thru-hike has improved since my last post. I’ve found myself surrounded by the most phenomenal community of people–friends giving and thoughtful in ways I couldn’t even imagine. I never dreamed I had such love around me here, in the city which still feels somewhat foreign. Gratitude is incredibly humbling.

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Music has provided the best friends and the greatest community a girl could ask for.

I’ve also kept in contact with several hikers–ones I never thought I’d see again. Someone I knew for an afternoon on Fuller Ridge or another for a  windy lunch atop Baden-Powell or someone I saw only once every month or so in the most unexpected places, and that’s been strengthening and uplifting.

Still, I’ve struggled in facing some of the regrets about how I hiked the PCT. I wish I would’ve taken more time–not just longer days and lower mileage–taken more time for people. I wish I would’ve gone into Julian for free pie. I wish I would’ve left my cell phone packed inside a box in my friend’s basement in Seattle. I wish I’d been more ok with not being ok all the time. I wish I would’ve packed out a whole jar of vanilla frosting in Trout Lake. And there was a while wherein I wasn’t hiking my own hike, and I regret that most of all.

As much as the intro to this blog post may seem to the contrary, I’m not pulling the old Glenn Beck fearmongering card. Quite the opposite, in fact. Being always afraid of death or injury, and preemptively mitigating for failure or rejection is no way to live.

One of the many hundreds of things I learned  on that 12″ swath of dirt trail last summer (and the 5″ between my own ears) is that the present moment is the most important.

I’m struck on a daily basis, in the small moments–in rinsing shampoo from my hair or tying up my running shoes or shaping round loaves of rye bread in the dark hours of the morning, by how often I’m living somewhere else; existing in some counter-factual history of my own past, a fictional land of the future, or in the meaningless validation of social media.

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Approaching Walker Pass from the south in Southern California

I’m not one who generally makes New Years’ Resolutions. I tend to find them trite and easily cast aside or forgotten. But this year, this year I’m jumping on the Gregorian bandwagon.

The first PCT thruhiker I ever met has a tattoo–I can’t recall what it looks like, but I remember asking him its meaning, to which he answered “to live with fire.”

And as Shaman Piney, a fellow thruhiker and Michigander I met early on in SoCal, likes to say “Love NOW!” There’s no better time–no more important time than right now.

I want to love now and to love better. I want to live with a fire. I want to fill my life with only the things and the relationships that add value, and to find the value in whatever I’m doing. I want to be present in my interactions with others. I want to be less busy. I want to say “yes” to more things because as Jack Kerouac wrote “In the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

You too, reader. Run that extra half-mile. Go on that spur-of-the-moment afternoon trip to the lake. Throw away the kitsch materials you don’t need. Kiss that person you like. Hand-write your friend a letter. Tell the people you care about how you feel about them.

Afterall, we really could actually die tomorrow.

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Thoughts on Reintegration

(some of those I’ve corresponded with recently may recognize a few passages from this post…)

I’ve been back in civilization for over a month, now. Not that you’d know, blog-reader. I didn’t exactly do a great job of posting here. With another hiker I’d been traveling with for some time, I reached the northern terminus on August 31 around 10:00am, stuck around long enough to take a few pictures, brew up a celebratory cup of mocha, and, shivering in the freezing rain, turn back to Hart’s Pass. Two days after returning to Seattle, the fire closure north of Steven’s Pass reopened, and I headed back out to complete the section. I got about 40 miles in, but a trip on the stairs the night before I left and a subsequent fall on the trail (I’m a little clumsy) left my knee pretty tender, and I bailed at the North Fork of the Sauk River.

Back in the land of paying rent and needing a job and pissing in a toilet, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the trail and wrestling with reintegrating into city-life.

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Pasayten Wilderness, WA … about 15 miles south of the Canadian border

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Pasayten Wilderness, WA

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Psayten Wilderness, WA

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Camped at Methow Pass

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Rounding Cutthroat Pass

I spent a while visiting with family in Michigan before returning to Seattle in the middle of September. Since then I’ve been job-hunting and interviewing. I’ve had plenty of time to write here, but for some reason haven’t found the necessary resolve to do much of anything but go for a run in the morning and show up at prospective employers and pretend (unconvincingly, it seems) I want a job, and sit listlessly at the neighborhood coffee shop, watching the colored leaves gather along the curb across the street.

I knew upon setting out for the PCT that I would struggle when I returned to civilization, but it is a daily effort to push myself out of the house and go back to my routine and try to find joy in my new life. People don’t want to hear about the trail, or my “trip” as many call it, and I don’t know how I’d talk to them about it anyway. It’s difficult to convey how I feel to people who haven’t thru-hiked, and it’s proven to be an acutely lonely endeavor.

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Enjoying the spoils of an established campground at Crater Lake, OR with Ricky Bobby, Ass Patch, Olestra, Forest, and Lucky.

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Ricky Bobby at Crater Lake

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Sunset and moonrise were rendered a hazy red by the smoke from nearby wildfires; Charlton Lake, OR

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Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

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Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

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Three Sisters Wilderness, OR

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My favorite brother came out and hiked a bit with me! He’d never been backpacking a day in his life, and we cranked out 125 miles in four days. He’s a badass.

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Waking up on Ollalie Lake, OR

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At least we’re still headed north! Somewhere, OR


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I can’t say I don’t love taking showers regularly and sleeping in a comfortable bed, having Wi-Fi and drinking pretentious coffee or the absence of ramen-with-peanut-butter from my diet, but everything reminds me of the trail. It consumes my thoughts.

I notice the size of everyone’s backpacks and messenger bags, even though they’re just commuting downtown to work.

I unthinkingly pocket single-serve condiment packets.

I pull on a cotton shirt and slip between flannel sheets and I think about when I couldn’t do that—when I didn’t have that luxury—and I reveled in it.

I sit at my desk in my room and think about why I have so many things, when I lived so contentedly out of a backpack, wanting for nothing.

I miss the meaning and the specialness everyday things and activities took on—taking a shower, drinking a beer, sinking into an uncomfortable motel mattress.

I ache to see leaves and dirt and stone beneath my shoes.

It seems incredible to me that I must now assimilate to an ordinary lifestyle. I’m expected to.

I guess I’m afraid I’ll turn into the person I was before.

I don’t know how, exactly, I’ve changed. I think mostly in small ways, but many feel incredibly significant. I’m far less cynical. I feel that I have far more genuine compassion for and interest in people—strangers and friends alike. I grew up in a conservative and oppressive community, and for the first time, out on the trail, I really felt free. Free from community-specific expectations; free from the inundating pressures of physical appearance and expectations of female docility and my “cultural role”; free from the impossible expectations I put upon myself.

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Pretty stoked to run into Johnny Walker on my last stretch! Hiked 250 miles with him in Southern California, and hadn’t seen him since!

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those shrooms, though

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Cutthroat Pass, WA just before the rain

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The strangely quiet Rainy Pass on highway 20 in Washington… the road had been closed for nearly two weeks due to rock slides.

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2300 miles. After a while, these milestones don’t really feel that impressive.

It wasn’t always easy. There were days, and weeks, even, wherein I wanted to quit. It was hot and humid and buggy and steep fifteen-mile climbs over blowdowns and poorly-maintained trail, and a trough of emotional things to work through. My father sent me an email in late May as I was traversing the Mojave and wondering if I was going to make it even just through Southern California. In what proved to be the most invaluable advice I received on my hike, he wrote “Where ever you go, you bring all your shit with you. Doesn’t matter if you’re on the PCT or working 7 to 3:30 at some job somewhere, married with a kid or two. This might be the time and place for you for you to exist alone with some of your shit, but it might not be… I hope that you don’t keep on with something, anything, when your guts are telling you otherwise. My hope for you is that you pay attention to your body and soul and what they are telling you. If it’s time to keep going, you will know. If it’s not, you’ll know that too.”

It turns out that it was the best place, and the best time, and sometimes it just plain sucked. And most of the time I knew it was the best thing I’ve done with my life thus far.

And I don’t know what to do next.

I know I can’t afford it, but I find myself perusing the Continental Divide Trail website, as well as the PCT site, parsing through my pictures and wishing I could spend another summer–next summer–out on the loose. I think about ways I could possibly incorporate a thru-hike into my life—and I realize that I want it to be my life. And I don’t, simultaneously. I’ve never felt so conflicted.

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Embodying the Hiker Trash that we are… waiting on a ride down to Mazama, WA from Hart’s Pass a day after completing the trail.

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Glacier Peak Wilderness, WA

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Dinner is a fancy affair.

It’s not getting much easier, really, just more routine. My current BS job is incredibly boring and monotonous and requires only the bare minimum of mental functionality. I sit at a table with a middle-aged woman and try to explain that this (nearly identical) white has more green in it, and that was more of a purplish hue, and as they’re weighing their incredibly superficial options, I space out. In the vast array of green and brown color swatches adorning the walls, I see the woods and the earth and the 12″ wide trail curling its way through the trees; in the whites and greys and blacks and blues, I feel the vast granite of the Sierra towering over my small existence and I sometimes have a hard time keeping it together long enough to sell a gallon of paint. I have a hard time keeping it together at all, sometimes.

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stop and taste the huckleberries

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Camp just below Knife’s Edge in Goat Rocks Wilderness (WA)

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Goat Rocks Wilderness

I don’t know what’s next, but I find myself hoping that this isn’t the end.

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Good vibes and sweet-ass magic from Trail Angel Geared-Up just south of Trout Lake, WA

Hoping and thinking and tentatively planning another adventure.

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Reaching the monument at the Northern Terminus on August 31, 2015

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My final entry in the last trail register.

A Day in the Life

As I write, I’m sitting in an old European-style hotel in downtown Ashland, OR. The town is the largest I’ve been in since San Diego, and is bustling with tourists catching a show at the popular annual Shakespeare Festival. I’ve taken a couple days off here to celebrate (mostly with ice cream and craft beer) crossing into Oregon, resupply for the next few days and to send a box to myself in northern Oregon, and catch up on some sleep. My insomnia has reared is ugly head in the last couple weeks, making even th easier days feel incredibly difficult.

its strange to know I have only 950 miles left. At once it seems impossibly long, and so incredibly short. I want to hold onto every moment–every mile–so closely. I daydream sometimes about my regular life–about showering every day and  pulling clean water from the tap and running around Seattle’s Green Lake in the early mornings. But this–this life, it is so precious and so fleeting, and it makes those small things so much more beautiful and important.

Costco, another hiker I’ve been traveling with for several weeks now, read a passage to me from a book he was reading that seemed particularly applicable:

“Living in a state of perpetual denial… had a way  of heightening one’s appreciation of he small things…. for what is life, a good life, but the accumulation of small pleasures? In Washington we lived in a place where everything was available, for a price, and yet I couldn’t recall the last time I had really savor end soemthing–a book, a sunset, a fine meal. It was as if the sensory deprivation, a gilded weariness, where every thing is permitted and nothing appreciated.” (J. Maarten Troost)

A day in the life of a thru-hiker:

5:30a Wake up, consider falling back asleep, but ultimately race out of your tent to release the Israelites from Egypt.

6:30a Finish packing up all of your gear after breakfast (and this takes me longer than most, as I like hot breakfast and coffee), shoving a few snacks in your hip pockets.

6:35a: Glance at the maps/GPS again to get an idea of the elevation gain/loss you’ll be traveling through. Think about how many miles you might put in… Usually between 23-30 for me, depending on the terrain, how much I’ve slept, whether or not I’m stopping in a town, and if there’s a good swimming hole along the way.

6:37a: Start hiking. Pass a few hikers still sleeping or getting ready.

8:45a: Still hiking. Thinking about taking a break. Not yet.

8:47a: Suddenly feel like you took the wrong trail at the last junction. Nah, you took the right one.

8:48a: Did you, though? Did you look at the signs closely enough?

8:49a: Check the map to make sure sure–yep, you’re on the right trail. Feel a little foolish.

8:52a: Check the map again. Just to, you know. Make sure.

9:45a: Take a break. Shoes off, sit down, snack, filter a liter or two of water from a (hopefully nearby) stream or spring (hopefully not full of cow shit)

10:30a: Oops, kind of a long break. Hike some more.

12:30p: Lunch time! Tortillas with salami, cheese, and mayo. Possible accidental nap. Swat flies/mosquitos/bees. Inspect feet. Rinse out socks and underwear from previous day, hang on outside of pack to dry. Get passed by hikers from this morning. Chat about other hikers, how you accidentally dug your cathode near a switchback, how horrible that climb was, how hot it is, or about whether or not the brewery in the next town lets you camp in their backyard.

1:20p: Start walking again.

2:30p: Haven’t seen a trail hash for a while–obsessively check map to make sure you’re following the right trail.

3:00p: Wish you were done for the day. How many more miles? 10?! Ugh, fine.

3:45p: Stop to filter water

5:30p: Still Hiking

6:15p: Done for the day! Find a flat spot and set up your tent. Get dinner going (Ramen with peanut butter is a favorite)

7:00p: Joined by hikers from that Morning, or others. Discuss your food cravings, bowel movements, pass around a bottle of whiskey, talk about the trail and tell stories and wonder aloud what you’re going to do with your life after this.

8:45p: Stay up too late eating the sunset and hanging out with other hikers

9:15p: To bed and, if you’re lucky, to sleep.

O

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