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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Sierra Nevada isn’t just a beer

A few weeks ago, I wanted to quit. And the day before that, and likely the day before that. Though I’d had my fair share of difficult days, the Mojave broke me. Physically, it was no more strenuous than any other. The weather was prime, ranging from the mid-50s to the mid-70s in a  place that can easily boast triple digit temperatures this time of year.

The first day out of Mojave on the longest waterless stretch on the trail, I got violently ill, possibly as a result of food poisoning from the local burger joint–forcing me to carry enough water for 42 miles on a continually emtying stomach, through thick fog and rain which seemed to push into my mind.

Though I’ve known it to be true from other situations and experiences, it has never been more apparent than when thruhiking: you take your shit with you. All of your mistakes. All of your beliefs and judgements and insecurities and beliefs.

Many people think that attempting a thruhike of this magnitude is impressive–a physical feat beyond imagination. But when we hikers sit on our bear canisters over stained pots of Knorr Sides or dehydrated bean soup, we laugh. “We have the easiest job in the world! All we have to do is get up and walk. Every day.” The real difficulty of the PCT is the long climbs over passes or through canyonss–it’s in the mind. Its easy, after a days and nights spent alone, energies spent climbing hills and thinking about your next snack (even though you just ate four minutes ago) and making sure you’re drinking enough water and looking for the perfect spot for a cathole (with a view, naturally), to fall into a bad headspace.

 

Getting a ride back to the trail from Mojave

 

Cold rain and fog in the Mojave desert

 

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Meadow Ed’s Trail Magic at Walker Pass

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Marks the end of the desert section, mile 702

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Caesar prepping his pepperoni for a 200 mile stretch

 

I have since left the low hills of the desert and exchanged them for the mighty and impossibly beautiful Sierra Nevada. It is almost impossible to describe. The rugged, snowcapped peaks surround pristine alpine lakes around which myriad coniferous trees push out their thick branches and wildlife ignores your presence, their search for food far more important than your footsteps down the trail.


    

Hike to Guitar Lake powered by Snickers

 

      I’ve disvoered that I’m far more extroverted than I’d ever thought. Last week, I left the several people I’d een hiking with for several days to climb another pass off the PCT in order to resupply in Independence, CA. Upon returning to the trail, I hardly saw any other northbound hikers for four days. Though I knew from John Muir Trail hikers headed south that I was surrounded by fellow PCT-ers, I was just far enough to miss trailside chats or shared campsites. It can be intensely lonely, and seemingly endless solo struggles up mountain passes left me feeling physically and mentally weak. My fourth day out, I caught up with Puzzler on Selden Pass, a hiker I met 500 miles before and had seen off and on for several weeks, and all of the sudden we were best friends–neither of us having had much conversation for days.

 

King’s Canyon

 

Camping with Costco in King’s Canyon. Best day yet.

This is what a 40 minute mile looks like.

 

At the top of Glen Pass–right before I realized how much I HATE Glen Pass

 

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Very literally almost died. Lots of falling. Lots of slipping. Lots of feet-stuck-in-between-rocks.

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Surprisingly, I got lost here.

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Camping at Wood Creek with Deluxe and Your Highness

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Snow on Pinchot Pass

 

Shit shit shit shit–more snow! Run!

This was a long day.

 

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Even MORE snow!

 

Descending the Golden Staircase north of Mather Pass.

 

At Helen Lake!

 

Postholing like a champ on Muir Pass

    

John Muir Cabin

    

Lightning storm this time

 

Jesse making a fishing net out of his mosquito headnet. He was unsuccessful.

  

Drastically overpriced burgers at ermillion Valley Resort with Jesse and Deluxe

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Bill at VVR. Be careful or you’ll go broke.

Ferry ride over what’s left of Lake Edison

 

Brrrrrr

        

Despite the struggles, I’ve never before encountered such incredible beauty, nor had to put so much faith in my own step, or resourcefullness.

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.

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