Mojave

“Where are we?”

I turned around, my arms full of coffee, snacks, and new water bottles. A woman stood next to a blue sedan, a small toddler wriggling in her arms, while her husband fiddled with the gas pump. I smiled,

“Mojave,” I said, pausing under the 76 gas station overhang. The woman paused,

“We’re in the middle of nowhere, aren’t we?” She asked, resigned.

I couldn’t help but laugh, “yeah. Yeah, we are.”

I turned back and climbed through the fence to the cheap Motel 6 across the parking lot, trying to find my room key amongst my many pockets while keeping my coffee upright.

 

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Taking a break with Johnny Walker on a 22 mile road walk

 

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Getting in a game of pool in Lake Hughes with Ed, Giggles, and Johnny Walker

 

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Sunset on the road walk near Lancaster, CA  

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Spent a day walking on and along the L.A. aqueduct

Mojave definitely feels like the middle of nowhere. Several chain restaurants dot the main route, interspersed with wide, empty parking lots, abandoned business ventures, and large clumps of brush which act as town seives, collecting trash in their thick brambles.

I’ve taken a room for a couple nights with another hiker, Johnny Walker, where we’ve arbitrarily decided to take a zero day. Our room faces the main road, busy with long-haul trucks boasting two to three trailers, and camper vans just passing through. A railroad track runs alongside it, hurrying freight by every forty-five minutes. Beyond, the hills are lavishly painted with countless wind turbines. These, I learned, were only built in the last four years, and locals are not happy about it. Private energy companies muscled out residences, putting up hundreds of humming turbines in their place. Energy is sold to companies and municipal governments in Arizona, Nevada, and other parts of Southern California.

 

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Menacing rainclouds dissipated by the time I reached the hills.

 

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The aqueduct went through several wind farms

 

 

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Hens and roosters (and fresh eggs for breakfast) at Hikertown

Today, after breakfast with Johnny Walker, Blue, and two hikers I haven’t seen since Idyllwild 400 miles back, Motown and Stinger, I took (another) shower, finished up some laundry, and jogged across the road to Stater Bros for my next resupply. It’s funny how the small things in life–the commodities I took for granted–are so incredibly luxurious now. Cleanliness. Easy access to water. Transportation. Linens. Hot food. There have been several instances so far that I’ve turned down an opportunity to do laundry or take a shower because I’d just done it two or three days previous.

 

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Resupply in Mojave

 

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Setting up camp 25 miles before Mojave

This last stretch of 142 miles marks my last in Southern California. Soon I’ll reach Kennedy Meadows, what is often considered the gateway into the Sierra. While I’ve really enjoyed, and even grown to love parts of the chaparral, I’m intensely excited to see what the Sierra have in store.

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Casa de Luna

It’s difficult to keep a blog on trail–somehow I feel so much more busy now than I’ve ever been.

I wake up, make coffee, eat breakfast (tortilla with Nutella, peanut butter, and two blueberry pop tarts), pack up my things, and hit the trail. Life out here is incredibly simple, but the days are packed.

Since last posting, I’ve hiked through a snow storm near Wrightwood, camped on peaks and beaches, gotten lost, met new people, and benefitted from an incredible amount of generosity from strangers.

As I write, I’m sitting in the crowded living room of The Anderson’s at Casa de Luna–a trail angel’s hostel near Green Valley, CA, north of LA. Yesterday was the most physically trying day yet. The temperature hovered in the low 40s, and incessant rain pushed from the clouds all day. Despite my rain gear, I was soon soaked.

About four miles before the road at which I would hitchhike down to the Anderson’s, I pulled a muscle in my calf–it slowed me down substantially, but I was too cold to stop and take a look. I rounded hill after hill and it felt like the trail would never end. Water rushed between and through my shoes, rain whipped around my legs, and I started the shiver.

Thankfully, on reaching the road, a ride was quick to come, and I was able to avoid the three mile road walk to the hostel. I got warm clothes, taco salad, and the loving arms of strangers in an unfamiliar town.

Today I’ll take it easy. Massage my leg, eat pancakes, drink beer, and try to dry out my things. The next section brings the low desert and a 17 mile road walk to avoid a bad burn area.

 

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Summited Baden-Powell with these guys

 

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Hikers atop Baden-Powell  

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Snow melt water

 

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The most delicious of dinners

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Cowboy camping near the Baden-Powell summit

 

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L.A. is down there somewhere

 

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Lil Jimmy Spring

  

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Camp Glenwood

 


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Dirty

 

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The trail passes through culverts beneath the expressways

 

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Vasquez Rocks

 

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Hitchhiking is more fun with friends

 

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Treehouse taking part in the 24-24-24 Challenge: 24 miles, 24 beers, 24 hours  

 

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The Forest at the Anderson’s

Pictures from Big Bear

I’m in Big Bear Lake, CA at 266 miles… Exactly 10% of the way through!

I’ve had a bit of a trying couple days, and am not really up to a full blog post–but enjoy these pictures!

 

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Best trail magic yet! Meant we didn’t have to filter from a horse trough  

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Kick Off, San Jacinto, and Michigan Beer.

It’s Tuesday (I think) and I’m sprawled across a massive bed at a ridiculously fancy Hyatt Regency in Palm Springs. How did I get here? My very own personal trail angel! I posted a photo to Instagram yesterday from San Jacinto State Park and a friend who happened to be in the area for work sent a message offering to pick me up, a hot shower, and a cozy bed to sleep in. Social media for the win. She even had Bell’s Two Hearted from Michigan! I nearly cried I was so happy.

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I’m not hiking today on account of some nasty blisters on my heel. I’m frustrated, especially after taking four zeros last week, but I know I wouldn’t get far with my feet in this condition.

After a day and Idyllwild, I headed down to AZDPCTKO (Annual Zero Day Pacific Crest Trail Kick-Off) back at mile 20. I crammed into a Jeep Cherokee with several other hikers and drove the 2 1/2 hours back south. It was strange to be moving so quickly after several weeks of a 2.5mph pace. Interesting as well was driving through the terrain I’d already hiked – glimpses of the trail itself as it crossed the highway, thruhikers heads bobbing among the brush. Kickoff itself was a bit anticlimactic. With the trail’s increasing popularity, the organizers decided to split this years kick off into two separate events. As a result there are far fewer people at each one and it felt spread out and a little drab. This wasn’t helped by a torrential downpour over the weekend.

 

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A ranger from Yosemite came to kick off to talk about bear management

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Cold bean burritos will warm any hiker’s heart!

There were some interesting events, including talks about flora, fauna, and geology along the PCT. A ranger came down from Yosemite National Park to talk about bear management, and my favorite–Trauma and Pepper came down to talk about their thruhike of the PCT during the winter… The first of its kind. It was fascinating and inspiring and with Halfmile, Yogi, and Warner Springs Monty wandering the camp, I felt surrounded by trail celebrities.

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Girl Scout and Squatch offering shitty advice at their AZDPCTKO (it’s a steal!)

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I found some fellow Grand Rapidians!

I got a ride back up to Idyllwild on Sunday and began hiking a little after noon. I can’t say that I recommend hangover hiking. It was a long drawn out climb up 3000′ to San Jacinto. I walked slowly, and I took a lot of breaks, and as I gained elevation the temperature dropped significantly. As I reach over 8500′ I could no longer see more than 30 feet or so in front of me. The entire peak was socked in, the trails were snowy and slushy, and ice from the evergreens cascaded down onto the trail. The woods were loud with the sound of clinking icicles. I donned my rain gear and tried to move quickly beneath the trees to avoid falling ice. I was cold but sweaty, my shoes were soaked my feet freezing and still I was going up and up and up. I started to feel jaded. This was too hard. Could I really do it for four more months? I didn’t even know if I could finish out the day.

      

I hadn’t seen anyone for hours, and I was moving so slowly. If the ground weren’t sopping wet, I probably would’ve sat down and cried.

Just as I climbed another crest, I was met by a search and rescue team. They were looking for a hiker, missing since the previous day. They weren’t hopeful at this point, considering the weather, but asked me to keep my ears peeled. I pressed onward.

I passed several other thruhikers–even two I met at kickoff! I reupped my water supply at a crystal clear stream and carried my now even heavier pack up a final climb.



Finally, FINALLY I got to go downhill. The trail wandered below the clouds and I was met with an incredible view of the desert 6000′ below.

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Wind farms on the desert floor, as seen from San Jacinto

The air grew warmer as I descended, and just when I thought my feet couldn’t carry me any further, I stumbled on a large campsite full of other thruhikers. Many were cooking dinner, setting up camp, or inspecting toes and soles of feet.

“Uh, man, that climb killed me!” One of them said, stirring chunks of spam into his instant rice.

I was relieved suddenly. These people knew. They knew everything. All of the little daily trials. They knew about foot sores and ripped tents and broken sunglasses. They knew about tightened leg muscles and long, arduous climbs over basins and saddles and peaks. Almost in an instant my resolve was restored. Everyone has shitty days, but it’s nice to be able to commiserate with strangers become friends over a plastic bag of Ramen noodles.

 

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Laundry at Ziggy & the Bear’s

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Stopped in at Ziggy and the Bear’s–trail angels near Cabazon, CA

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Passed the 200 mile marker yesterday!

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The trail followed a wash for nearly 2 miles–slow going

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I didn’t do any of these things.

 

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Taking a break with Unbreakable and No Trace under Interstate 10

  
Before Emily picked me up, I stopped in at trail angels’ Ziggy and the Bear’s near Cabazon. They have their entire backyard set up to help out hikers, accept packages, deliver outgoing mail, and provide water for drinking, washing up, and rinsing out clothes.

I met up with the Bobsled Team again–an entertaining group of guys hiking about 10 miles a day, who I can’t seem to figure out how I keep running into. They’d taken a zero at Ziggy’s that day, and told me how they’d been the ones to find the camp with the missing hiker’s items on San Jacinto. They’d called up local Search and Rescue when they found the hiker’s thermal clothing and food supply.

IMG_5521IMG_5522IMG_5519     Today I’ll rest up my feet, swim in the gigantic pool, and head out again tomorrow.

Of Trail Names & Detours

Day 9 and I’m laying on my stomach on a bed in a cozy motel hut in Idyllwild, CA. It’s my first zero day, and I had every intention of relaxing, but have instead found myself bustling around town, finding gear, food, coffee, and catching up with other hikers I haven’t seen for a few days.

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Trail Angel Mike Herrara’s at mile 139

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Cooking dinner above Tunnel Spring

Picture credit: Jesse Wiegel

Picture credit: Jesse Wiegel

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The morning hours are the most productive and the most beautiful.

The morning hours are the most productive and the most beautiful.

Two days ago I reached mile 152 at highway 74, and walked down the road to Paradise Valley Cafe–easily the best known eatery on trail. After stuffing myself with burgers and milkshakes, I pulled out my maps with Jesse, Dana, and Evan, and we planned our next move–hiking through the Mountain Fire Detour. Several years ago, there was a massive forest fire near Idyllwild which destroyed part of the PCT. Most hikers either hitchhike into town or roadwork the 17 miles. The detour itself adds an extra five and winds through neighborhoods and biking trails after completing the rest of the open trail. We wanted to walk the entire distance, and walking the road can be quite dangerous as there are many twists and turns and a narrow shoulder.

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Adventures in night hiking

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Jesse assuming the fetal position at our cabin in Idyllwild

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Jesse, Dana, and me entertaining ourselves on the detour

Taking a break amongst the boulders

Taking a break amongst the boulders

Despite the extra miles and a walk on Forest Roads, we didn’t regret our decision to hike the detour. We push through massive boulder fields and across high ridges, we saw a massive rattlesnake which wriggled slowly across the trail, and switched on our headlamps as we climbed over the saddle into the dusk.

I went and got myself a trail name this week: Suds. This is on account of my putting laundry detergent in all of my resupply boxes–making all of my food taste like soap. And as my fathers daughter, of course I ate it all. Mouth froth and all.

Some other trail names I’ve run across so far are Daytripper, Mouse, Stinger, Motown, Snack Master, Coppertone, Justa, Rally, Squatchy, Bush-tit and Tom-tit (The Tits), Witch Doctor, and Growler. Trail names are actually much easier to remember–and I often don’t even learn hiker’s real names.

 

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Pizza, beer, and sandwiches at Idyllwild Pizza  

IMG_5435 There’s something about the PCT, about hiking it, that is intensely personal. Like a good book with whose characters you feel intimate – as though no one could possibly experience the same feelings from the same literature. I want to share it with my family, friends, with the world, but I’m simultaneously jealous of its tread.

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Me and Stella at the Red Kettle

 

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Hiked with Joel and Mark for a couple days–two lovely sections hikers from Southern California (and I’m not just saying that because they might be reading this)

At the same time, it’s interesting to think about those who have come before me – those I know and those I have met or read about, hiking in the same place – struggling over the same rocks and seeing the same views… It makes me feel connected to those people and a community.

Conversations with strangers fall quickly into a relaxed speech and those you’ve only known a day or two become fast friends.

I’m headed down to the PCT kickoff this week–basically a big trail party back down at Lake Morena around mile 20–and it’s strange–I’ve only known these people for several days and yet it makes me incredibly sad to think I likely won’t see many of them again, or at least not for a long while. Taking four days off will put me in an entirely different group of people. The transient nature of this hike is one of its draws, but also one of the more difficult aspects.

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Overindulging at Paradise Valley Cafe

 

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Dana was the only successful hitch-hiker this day

    

The Days Are Just Packed

“We haven’t even been out here for 60 hours yet,” he said.

Ilan and I were sitting on a large water tank at the end of a long, mostly unused, dirt road, watching the sun set over the San Felipe hills. As it curled down behind the soft peaks, the sky lit up orange and purple and red. I laughed. It seemed almost comical. “I feel I’ve known you for six months, at least,” I said, cozying into my down jacket, drawing the hood around my neck. The were muffled scuffs in the dirt below us as another hiker filled his water bottle from the drip, his white shirt now tan, skin sunburnt and covered in a thick layer of grit.

Camp at Third Gate water cache

Camp at Third Gate water cache

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Camping outside the resource center at Warner Springs

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Sunrise just north of Mt. Laguna

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imageThe Southern California desert is far more beautiful than I ever expected. Dry, inhospitable hills rise over flat valleys dotted with shrubs and faded grass. The trail climbs miles of switchbacks through steep embankments featuring dozens of cactus species and tall, asparagus-looking flowers. The days are hot and impossibly arid, but eased by a consistent breeze through the hills.

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Me, Nick, Beth, and Ilan

Water hasn’t been a serious issue for me yet–in fact I’ve been carrying a little too much out of fear of running out. My longest carry so far has been about 23 miles, but if I can push through some good mileage in the morning, usually between 6:30-10:00am, I’m good for the afternoon.

Eagle Rock just outside Warner Springs

Eagle Rock just outside Warner Springs

As I write, I’m at a small resource center in an unincorporated community called Warner Springs.I’ve just ingested a delicious breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and eggs, complemented by strong coffee and the animated tunes of Blisters, a fellow hiker who has dug up a guitar from somewhere and is entertaining the room with a round of Disney songs, Radiohead, and The Eagles.

At day six, I’m at mile 109, and I feel I’ve been out here for a month at least. Every day is intensely stimulating–the terrain, the physical work, the hiking tactics, the people.

Trail magic in the form of beer and pancakes at Barrel Spring

Trail magic in the form of beer and pancakes at Barrel Spring

I set out from the border with about 13 others who’d all stayed with the same trail angels in San Diego, and kept with five of them over the next several days. Hiking at the same pace, we passed most of the hikers who left the same day we did, and as we pressed on, those who’d begun a day, two days, three days before us. I’d planned on hiking conservatively the first week… 15-18 mile days to ease into the work, but I felt strong and able, and the second day out, I pushed passed the marathon marker and hiked 27 miles. My feet were sore, but I was happy.

Taking a break after passing a prison work detail cleaning up the trail

Taking a break after passing a prison work detail cleaning up the trail

As of yet, the physical output hasn’t been huge. My conditioning has definitely contributed to my ability to hike so far so quickly, but the trail is well graded and I’ve only run into several miles of loose rock and deep sands–both of which will slow this girl down pretty substantially. Mostly my feet are just sore and I have to stop to patch up blisters and hot spots every several hours as well has clean my socks and shoes out of grit to help prevent too much friction. So far so good.

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imageBeyond the beauty of the trail–which astounds me on an hourly basis–are the people. Everyone I’ve met is friendly, interesting, generous, and kind. I’ve met a retired NASA engineer slowly plodding his way north alongside a thickly bearded thirty-something who never graduated high school, whipping around the curves in the trail.

Everyone has something to offer, something to give,

Fixing up gear at Scout and Frodo's in San Diego the day before departure

Fixing up gear at Scout and Frodo’s in San Diego the day before departure

something they need, something they’re looking for amongst the hills and the cactus.

It’s an incredible place to be and one of the most lovely, forgiving, and understanding communities I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering.

I’m so happy to be here.

Hiatus.

I want to live in a place where eucalyptus grows.

I’ve spent the last week putting some serious mileage on my rental car, cruising around Northern California and a bit of the Central Valley, seeing the sights, taking the pictures, and drinking the beer. I found myself most often north of the city on winding county roads lined with fragrant eucalyptus and massive redwoods. I found this area more enjoyable than the popular regions to the south–the rolling hills and thick forests and angled grape vines do more to entertain the imagination.

I’ve been enchanted. If I’m not careful, I could end up moving here next.

I stayed Airbnb in Vallejo for the first part of the week, and received some pertinent advice from my host, who, having trained with the army in Southern California, had some experience in the desert. “Check your shoes every morning,” he said through a mouthful of bacon, “I found scorpions in my boots a few times a month when I was down there.” Right. Scorpions. In my shoes. Consider that a chore I’ll probably do more than is probably necessary. Yikes.

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Along Highway 1 south of Monterey Bay

I ventured south on one day to Salinas and Monterey on the scenic Highway 1 along the coast, stopping in at the National Steinbeck Museum (which turned out to be more a history of the Salinas Valley), Cannery Row, and the lovely Point Lobos for lunch.

The last part of the week I’ve spent in Berkeley, wandering up and down the streets, visiting the local parks and quirky coffee shops and the hole-in-the-wall bookshops and hat shops and record stores of Telegraph Avenue.

As I’ve allocated most of my funds this week to fuel and driving around the state a bit, I’ve only been eating turkey sandwiches, oatmeal, and bananas. I’ve also been keeping up my running/hiking most days, and being more than slightly stressed has taken a toll on my eating habits. My hiking pants, which I intentionally purchased a little snug, already need a belt, and my cardigan keeps slipping off my shoulders. I’ve never struggled with keeping my weight up (usually higher than it should be) (the truth), and this is an odd place to find myself. Last night I made a last ditch effort to give myself a little extra padding (pizza, ice cream, blueberry muffins) (I feel ill), and purchased my first (very high calorie) resupply.

Despite the stunning vistas I’ve seen, this week has been difficult for me. Before leaving Seattle, I was in such a hurry to get everything done, I pushed everything I was feeling out of the way to be dealt with later. My trip to Arizona was great, but allowed me to ignore what was going on in my own head for another few days. When I arrived in Oakland last Sunday, I had a car and a backpack and an empty week before me.

I know that this is what I want to do. And I know that for me, right now, it’s the right thing to do. But I’m still plagued with uncertainty. I don’t think I’ll regret attempting this hike, but I don’t look forward to starting all over again when (if?) I finish. It’s a fear no different, I suppose, from the ones I confront many days, whether or not I’m planning an five month hike. Am I taking the right direction?

Those thoughts coupled with several unresolved personal issues coming to a head has made this week emotionally exhausting and a little overwhelming.

Tomorrow morning I’m off to San Diego, where I’ll be picked up by Scout & Frodo, two local Trail Angels, and brought out to the trailhead early Monday.

I suppose there’s nothing now to do but hike.

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Child, don’t fear doing things wrong… I know I am naive, but if anything, that’s what’s going to save me.