Sierra Summer

It was mid-August, 4:45am, and I was lost. Sort of.

Two miles from the trailhead on a path I’d tread more times than I could recollect, I was standing in the middle of a shrub, its brittle twigs snapping against my bare arms and legs as I fought to see beyond the illumination of my headlamp. I squinted in the darkness, as if that’d help. I sighed, let out a little chuckle at myself and pulled out my phone. GPS doesn’t work well in the Kings Canyon, but if I could figure out whether or not I was even facing east, I could maybe backtrack and figure out an easier path.

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Redwood Canyon

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Looking north toward the Monarch Divide from the Don Cecil in May

The crossing at Bubbs Creek boasts several footbridges, but the nearly 200% snowpack of last winter flooded creeks and rivers so that even small rock-hops were transformed into raging rivers, too deep and too swift to even consider. Earlier in the season seventeen backpackers got stranded on the other side for four days when a few hot afternoons rushed along snow melt in the high country. Overnight, Bubbs swelled nearly two feet higher, violently hurling logs into the Kings River downstream—the current so strong it even moved boulders.

It had retreated significantly over that month, but a safe crossing still involved a walk on a log, a bit of bushwacking through and over a lot of debris and a knee-deep ford through swift water. And while I’d crossed multiple times in these conditions, the darkness of pre-dawn removed all context from my trek and I couldn’t see more than 10’ ahead of me. A crossing that would’ve taken four minutes in daylight ate up 20 minutes of crashing through the underbrush before I finally caught a glimpse of the footbridge in the swinging light of my headlamp. I sighed, finally, and stepped into the creek, the cold water flooding my shoes as I sought purchase among the rocks I couldn’t see.

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Upper Paradise Valley

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Upper Mist Falls

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Remnants of the bridge across the South Fork of the Kings; Upper Paradise

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Mount Cedric Wright above Twin Lakes

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Pear Lake

Armed only with what I could fit in the 6-liter runner’s pack strapped snugly to my back, I was fast-packing the Rae Lakes Loop in a single day. One of the most popular hikes in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the 43-mile loop gains nearly 7,000′ of elevation over the first seventeen miles along Bubbs Creek and the John Muir Trail, topping out at Glen Pass (11,926′) before rolling along the pristine alpine Rae Lakes, Woods Creek, and descending to Paradise Valley and the Kings River.

Living in Kings Canyon National Park’s little village of Cedar Grove put me at the trailheads for some of the most spectacular hikes in the Sierra. Apart from my park ranger wilderness patrol duties, a personal goal of putting 1,000 hiking miles under my trail shoes during the season pushed me out the door even on the days that the thermostat inched above 90-degrees, or the mosquitos were so bad they looked like clouds against the clear blue skies, or the smoke rising from wildfires in the Central Valley or Yosemite caught in my throat and colored the air orange and brown.

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Middle Rae Lake looking towards the Painted Lady and Glen Pass

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Sixty Lake Basin

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Avalanche Pass Trail

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Glen Pass

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Kearsarge Lake Basin

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Junction Meadow

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Palmer Mountain and the Sphnix

Any seasonal worker will tell you that the lifestyle isn’t always easy. You give up a lot for what you gain. Park Rangers are paid in sunsets, as the saying goes. Crap pay, no job security, no benefits, often hazardous working conditions, and the job only lasts five months a year.

But those sunsets, turning the granite walls of the canyon yellow and orange. Those tiny pink wildflowers that blanket the hillsides under the Giant Sequoia. Those rugged granite peaks still covered in ice and snow. Those black bears and western tanagers and rainbow trout and angry stellar’s jays hopping after crickets in the cheatgrass. Those clear, perfect alpine lakes and wide open meadows. That silence. That wild space.

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Descending Hotel Creek Trail at dusk

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Monarch Divide

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Long days at Roads End

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My cubicle

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the porch.

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The last year has been one under construction for me. One of building my own peace, my own closures and beginnings; fostering my own community and creating spaces for myself and for others; one of assembling a person I want to be—often messing up a lot along the way, praying my better angels to shout down the demons in my mind.

And somehow, in some quiet way, I realized I was ok. The burden of old decisions and the way I grew up and floundered relationships gripped my mind with less force and some of the walls I’d built around myself crumbled.

Something about those still, parched afternoons, sun charring the brown grasses, their dry stalks tinkling lightly together like a wind chime at the slightest breeze; boxed wine and cheap beer on the communal porch, the arguments of bickering mules emerging from the darkness, mingling with our conversation about everything and nothing at all, chasing the dying days to the edges of the earth.

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Redwood Canyon

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I spy two rattlesnakes

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Yours truly taking a break near Charlotte Lake

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the Golden Staircase

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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

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.

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.

Friends & Mountaintops

Over the last several days I’ve been moving through innumerable and often contrasting thoughts and sentiments. A lot of doubt, and then erratically leaping to enthusiasm. Apprehension. Love. Strength. Fear. Weakness. Excitement. Joy.

On Friday, I borrowed my roommate’s 1982 Subaru and drove north. I don’t drive that often, and my hands were glued to the wheel and gear shift, the engine roaring beneath the worn muffler. The morning was warm and mild, clouds hung high over the Cascade peaks as I turned east. Driving on Highway 2 always makes me think of Michigan. The road’s eastern terminus is St. Ignace, MI and it winds gracefully along the northern shores of Lake Michigan–a route I took many times between my hometown and college.

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The lovely northern shores of Lake Michigan

My destination on Friday, however, was just beyond Skykomish to a recently rehabilitated trail to Beckler Peak. The forest road was long and full of potholes… it took me nearly a half hour to drive the 6.5 miles to the trailhead from the highway. There were only a couple cars in the gravel parking lot when I arrived, and after donning my mostly-full pack (about 20lb), I started up the trail. It was boring at first. An old logging two-track, the trail is wide and grassy with hyperbolic switchbacks past tree stumps and eroding ridges. I started to get hot. My long sleeves and pants stuck to my limbs, and my ears were fiery beneath my headband. Shit, I thought. It’s only 60 degrees. What am I going to do in the desert for two months? My legs began aching, my heart rate jacked. I paused in the middle of the trail. Caught my breath. Waited for my legs to regain their normal composure. Pressed on. Stopped again a minute later. Just twenty or thirty seconds. Continued up. How am I ever going to make it 2,660 miles? I found myself contemplating. I’ve only gone two so far today. The road turned into a trail as it entered third growth forest as giant western cedars towered over my head. I stopped to listen to the creak of the branches. To hear the sounds drowned out by my daily city life.

I heard voices above me, distant at first, and then closer as I rounded a few switchbacks. I traversed a small snow field and met up with four women chatting on the trail–one headed down, three on their way up, all in their 50s or 60s. One, Diana I later learned, noticed my pack. “Is that a ULA? I’ve got the Circuit & the CDT. Great packs.” And off we flew into gearhead mode and trail talk. They were all familiar with the PCT–Diana lives very near The Dinsmores at Hiker Haven in Baring, WA, and works at the Skykomish Deli–both necessary stops for any thru-hiker. Another works at the visitor’s center at the Ranger Station in Snoqualmie Pass. I pushed on, knowing the summit couldn’t be far off now.

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The views, suddenly and somehow, made everything worth it. Made me forget the work I’d done to get there. The three women joined me several minutes later, and they named each of the peaks for me, telling stories of previous hikes or commenting on this glacier or that, and which fed what lake or watershed. They asked me about my preparations and wished me well, and told me to come find them when I passed through.

And then I left.

It had me thinking about the nature of relationships of all sorts–long or short term, professional, platonic, romantic, familial, even the small, brief moments spent on mountaintops with those momentarily intimate kindred spirits. There are some relationships I know won’t survive quitting my job or the five months I’ll be hiking the PCT. What do you say when you look into the eyes of a friend you know you’ll never see again? As one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Safran Foer, writes, “So many people enter and leave your life–hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in–but that also means you have to let them go!”

Delicious Foodstuffs & Training Hikes

I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time thinking about food. And I work as a cook.

The last month or so has been a flurry of dehydrating foods (and buying them when I got sick of that–Harmony House has excellent vegan/vegetarian options), blending up a few different trail mixes (all with chocolate. Lots of chocolate.), repackaging fruit snacks and hot chocolate, and putting meals together.

As of now, I’m planning on having my point person send me sixteen resupplies over the course of my hike–though that number is still rough. I suppose it sort of depends on how much food I end up with after my fixed supply points are covered.

My friend Jessie stopped over for an afternoon beer and took the liberty of garnishing many of the pictured trail mix bags with little notes. They started off sweet and lovely–“Jessie loves you,” and “We miss you!” and slowly turned sassy, till the final ones read “you’re gross” and “I’ve already replaced you.” It’s always nice to get an ego check, and will be even more lovely to see her handwriting while I’m crying under a tree in the rain in the middle of nowhere.

Though some of my pre-packed resupplies will just contain food, others will have the next set of maps I’ll need, a new pair of shoes/socks, a restock of first aid and medical products as well as hygiene items like a couple q-tips and a little baggie of wet wipes to get the grit out from behind my ears before crawling into my sleeping bag.

Beyond food resupplies, I’ve been paying close attention to the water reports coming out of Southern California to give me an idea of what I can expect in terms of stream levels in the desert. Trail Angel and former PCT hiker Double Tap maintains the PCT Water Report–a website to which hikers can contribute information about a particular water source by email/text/voicemail if they happen to pass by. Two hikers (trail names Trauma and Pepper) completed the first successful winter thru-hike of the PCT headed southbound on March 1st. Their water reports have proven invaluable to my plans of what to expect in just a few weeks.

My mother flew out from Michigan at the beginning of the month to see me off before I leave (and possibly die), cart me around Seattle to help pick up items I wasn’t willing to haul onto public transportation (see above Costco picture), and take a little training hike along Eagle Creek in northern Oregon.

Not absent from my daily thoughts are incredible excitement and anticipation sewn together with nerves. Am I prepared enough? Am I going to run out of food or water? I’m not nearly as knowledgeable about the trail as some of my fellow hikers–I can’t rattle off the list of passes in the Sierra or major climbs in the San Jacinto–but am I enlightened enough about the difficulties I’ll face? Am I planning my resupplies too far apart?

As my departure date slowly edges closer (seventeen days, now), I find myself taking stock of where I am. I heard an interview on NPR with a neuroscientist several months ago about the nature of memory. She posited that as adults, time seems to slip by more quickly not because the hours and days make up a smaller percentage of our lives as we age, but because we enter routines. There is nothing new to recall on this day or that, no significant changes or events, and so they meld together into a week or a month or a year or ten years.

Jon Krakauer wrote that the core of man’s spirit lies in new experiences, and I don’t intend on wasting my strongest, healthiest years doing menial work to reach a non-existent goal. So this weekend I wandered more slowly through Saturday’s farmer’s market; I walked more deliberately through my neighborhood and along the waterfront to work, as if I could physically immerse myself in the little details of my life–the small parts that so often seem insignificant, but actually make up the majority of our day-to-day lives.

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In the last year and a half I’ve cultivated a life in a new city, I’ve found a new and favorite hobby to which I’ve decided to dedicate a full five months of my life, I’ve met fascinating people and seen incredible things and experienced intense love and joy and gratitude. I don’t know what’s next for me, but I’m happy to wait and see.

Fears & Changes & Wild

I’ve changed.

Several days ago I was clicking through some photographs from earlier this year on my computer, and was struck by their strangeness. That girl in the pictures–standing next to my sister on the Oregon coast in May or backpacking with friends in the Alpine Lakes in June–she’s not me anymore.

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Sure, our lives are always in flux. Our opinions and behaviors and speech and beliefs altering ever so slightly over the course of a year or a decade or a job or relationship. But I’ve never felt so completely removed from a life and a way of being as I have over the last six months.

I can’t say with any specificity what, exactly, brought this about. A handful of new, sometimes exciting, but often less so, new experiences perhaps. I think, though, that I can attribute a lot of this (most of it?) to the trail. Though I have yet to set out from the Mexican border, the PCT has become an intricate part of my daily life: I live frugally in order to put away a hundred here, a dime there for the five months away from civilization. I think about who I might meet or the days I won’t see anyone at all; about the nights under the stars or the deluge of rain or snow; about the days I accidentally stray off-trail and lose my way in the wilderness. I think about which items to include in my first aid kit as I push through another day of work, counting down the days till I can leave my job.

When I first contemplated thru-hiking the PCT, I was scared shitless. As writing helps me think things through, I made a list of my fears–the things I knew I must conquer before the trail, and the fears I’ll just have to face as they present themselves.

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In confronting these things that frighten me, I’ve had to step intentionally out of my comfort zone. While, admittedly, some were abated with simple research, others murmur more insidiously in the lower recesses of my thoughts, simmering slowly and compounding other anxieties…. most specifically, going alone.

I’ve never shirked from doing things by myself. I’m not shy by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a strong streak of introversion and independence, and perhaps selfishly, I like to do things at my own pace.

However, enjoying my own company on a day-to-day basis is a far cry from committing to a five month solo journey through the wilderness. Although I won’t always be alone on the PCT, I’m learning to rely on my own intuition and my own resourcefulness, and I’ve overcome, I think, a lot of those fears I had at the outset. Or at least I’m able to face them with reason instead of blindness.

It is for this reason I’ve decided not to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. You’ve probably heard of it. Woman going through a divorce and overcoming a heroin addiction hikes 1,000 miles of the PCT. A film version of the memoir staring Reese Witherspoon just hit theaters last weekend, and there’s talk of an Oscar already. When I tell people about my plans to hike the PCT I’m almost inevitably asked if I’ve read Wild. “I haven’t,” I respond, “I hadn’t even heard of it till several months ago.” “Well, you should definitely read it,” they usually say.

wild_posterBut for the same reasons that most people want to read the book, I don’t. I don’t need to live vicariously through Strayed’s experience. I don’t want to read about her self-discoveries or her struggles… not yet at least. I want to have my own experience, undiluted by the musings of another. I want to make my own mistakes and have my own triumphs, and maybe I’ll come to some of the same conclusions she did. But whatever they are, they’ll be mine.

As a side note, Strayed has faced a lot of derision from hikers and backpackers for various reasons, and though some are unfounded and somewhat cruel, others bring up more serious concerns. Most notably, she failed to comply with some backcountry ethics, she began her journey without any idea what she was doing and made some foolish and life-threatening decisions as a result. With the book and ensuing film’s popularity, seasoned backpackers worry the trail will be busy with inexperienced and inept hikers unready for the challenges of the trail. Be careful out there.