Going Wherever It Leads

A family adventure blog


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One Toddler’s First Summit

Our five-year PCT trailaversary quietly passed us by last month with no more fanfare than my husband mentioning it in passing in the middle of the night after he got the baby back to sleep, otherwise I would have forgotten. (Catching longtime readers up to speed – we had a baby and moved from the West Coast back to Maine. Emily is now 20 months old.)

Just as I was clumsily gaining my hiking legs around Idyllwild, California around this time five years ago, this weekend Emily, not inelegantly, gained hers and summited her first mountain — Great Pond Mountain, elevation 1,029 feet.

 

And amidst all the chaos, stress and uncertainty of our daily pandemic life, it somehow seems the perfect time to resurrect this blog.

We are now going wherever it leads at toddler speed. This means noticing varieties of lichen on rocks, bugs crawling through grass and moss, birds singing, lots of collecting pine cones (Emily handing them to me, instructing “put in pocket”), scaling boulders with the help of Mommy’s hands, stumbling, and getting back up again.

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Although we’ve been spending several weekends in the woods or on the coast, this felt like our first real hike since moving back to Maine from Washington State this past December.

Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland offered us the quintessential Maine coastal forest trail, remote enough to safely social distance, south enough to be free of snow this time of year, and far enough from home to afford Emily a good car-nap each way.

The trail was lined with red spruce and giant granite covered in mint green lichen and deep green moss, the smell of pine needles kicked up from our feet — the landscape that had been calling us home from the dry high desert and rolling hills of Walla Walla, where we’d spent our last four years since getting off the trail. It’s early spring, so only little buds on some trees and mucky spots beside springtime streams that I lift Emily over. A 2.9-mile round trip out-and-back path with a lovely summit loop at the top that Emily walked completely (almost 0.5 miles), the rest of the time she rode in her hiking backpack on Daddy’s back.

My heart was so full seeing her as ignited by hiking as we are — excitedly searching for the next blue blaze, blazing down the trail herself. While walking, she chattered away “Mommy hiking. Daddy hiking. Emily hiking.”

We had a typical trail lunch (or as Emily calls it, a “picnic table,” whether or not we’re at a table) of salami, cheese, crackers and fruit sitting on a flat rock, sheltered by pines and spruce with a view of Maine’s spring forest — shades of brown dotted with pale blue lakes and, farther out, the ocean and coastal mountains, a darker shade of the gray-blue matching the overcast sky.

She’s gotten used to our quarantine hikes — the big event of her little life at this point. This morning after I explained what we were doing for the day she was eager to help us pack, naming the things she would need, “water bottle, cheddar bunnies, books” — for the car ride. She got Mommy’s hiking shoes out of the closet and almost had a tantrum when Daddy suggested they go play while I showered. She didn’t want to play, she wanted to help get ready for our adventure.

As new parents we are far from ones to be giving advice, but here are some things that worked for us to keep her interested for a full hike:

  • Searching for the next blue blaze (first pointing them out ourselves our voices full of exagerated excitement, then letting her lead the way to the next one)
  • Taking it slow, letting her scale a boulder or meander off-trail when she needs to explore
  • Interspersing having her walk on her own with carrying in a trail pack (we have an older version of this one) or in our arms
  • Me running ahead while Daddy shouts “Let’s catch Mommy,” then hiding behind trees and popping out to her squeals of delight
  • Lots of singing

Here’s a great resource for those interested in getting out for a hike with littles: Hike It Baby.

A note on hiking safely during the COVID pandemic: We take the time to find out-of-the-way lesser-known public lands and trails. We look at the number of cars in the parking lot and have one or two nearby backup plans if it looks too crowded. We practice physical distancing on trail.

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Until next time, happy trails,

Comet, Not a Bear, & (introducing) Alarm Clock


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Camping with baby donkeys, oh yeah, and the total eclipse

So we have tamed down our adventures for the month of August, quite to my liking. Over the eclipse weekend, we rediscovered the joys of car camping. Car camping so lazy that on Sunday we only roamed a few hundred feet the entire day –down to the river and back to cool off. We had a sweet set-up along the John Day River beside a giant juniper that provided shade, along with a tarp, to just relax all day in this no-cell-service-no-internet zone, with some friends, whose gourmet car-camp cooking put ours to shame.

Jason had an in with this rancher in the middle of nowhere Eastern Oregon (Twickenham, to be exact), beautiful canyonlands and ranch country near the Painted Hills, that has a similar feel to the Southwest.

It was definitely a working ranch. As we were greeted by our host, complete with cowboy hat and handlebar mustache, a threesome of donkeys greeted us in the middle of the road as well.

Some photos of the ranch:

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The three-day-old donkey named Eclipse and watchful Mama

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litter along the cow path

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view of the ranch from a nearby hill

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another nice shot of the cow pelvis

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more donkeys (I was kinda obsessed)

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playing around with my 75-300 mm lens

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sunset reflected on the hills, first night

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second night sunset even better

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morning of the eclipse, breaking camp, love that morning light

Then, for the eclipse we drove up to a part of the ranch on the height of land with amazing views of hillsides, valleys, and Mt. Jefferson and Hood in the distance. It was a perfect morning –just enough clouds in the bright blue sky to make it interesting. Before the event, I wasn’t quite convinced it was necessary to drive four hours away, brave the traffic (which was mostly hype –there was no traffic getting there and mostly minimal coming back), all for an extra 3% of coverage. (Walla Walla was at 97%) But man, Jason was right, that 3% made all the difference.

He described the difference like this –what was something you looked at in the sky all of a sudden became an event all around you. And that’s how it felt. As the moon overtook the sun, the air slowly became colder and colder, even though it was still bright. The quality of the light changed so that everything looked different, a sunset orangey tint to the air. Then during the two minutes of totality, you could whip off your glasses and look around. The sky became night, even a few stars were visible. A 360 degree sunset spanned the purple clouded horizon. And the moon! It was total black with a crisp thin bright white line of light all around it that twinkled. It was amazing. I would definitely drive even further to experience it again. (2024?)

I hesitate to post photos because I did not have the lenses nor the skills to do it justice, but here’s a pale hint of what it was like:

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enjoying the view

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Mt. Hood on the horizon, sky getting darker

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right before totality

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this photo really doesn’t do the total eclipse justice

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coming back to light

Over and out,

Comet


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Transitioning from Thru-hiker to Weekend Warrior

I almost deleted this and re-wrote it as a typical happy shiny blog post, but, the truth is, not every adventure is as awesome as you think it’s going to be, so here it is:

I can’t remember how many Triscuits I eat over thee days of hiking, which is frustrating me as we pack our bear canister for a long weekend of hiking in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Washington. Come to think of it, the number of Triscuits I eat over three days of hiking now, when I spend most of my days on my butt in front of a computer instead of putting away miles, has changed from when we were thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. No matter how much hiking you’ve done, every hike is a new hike, and doesn’t really get any easier, which seems to be my lesson of the summer.

IMG_3073It’s hard to get into a rhythm as a weekend hiker. This is yet another way thru-hiking ruins you. Before the trail, if I did a day hike I’d be satisfied, but now, it’s like when you open a carton of your favorite ice cream from the freezer and there’s only a tiny spoonful left. I want a whole bowl –okay, I want the whole carton. Having done a long immersive hike makes any time spent hiking now a little bitter sweet. Sure I enjoy it, but I always leave the trail a little unsatisfied, craving more. On this trip I also realized weekend hiking can lack a certain external motivation that can be needed to push through the rough parts.

As usual, by the end of Day 1, I was exhausted. But what was missing was the motivation to continue two more days like that. The rest of the trail was probably more maintained and going to get easier, but we didn’t know that, and there was no prize at the end. Yes, they say it’s all about the journey, not the destination, but what motivates the journey? Isn’t it, in part, the destination, if we’re really being honest with ourselves? On the long trail, it was the culmination of a larger goal that propelled me to keep going. On many of the hikes I do it’s the anticipation of reaching the summit, seeing those 360 degree views, or an epic waterfall, or something I can’t find anywhere else. But this hike –I was just not feeling it. It was just a loop through forest and fields that looked similar to what we’d been hiking for the last year; we were, in fact, going in a circle. The only reward seemed to be sore muscles and exhaustion to start the work week with, and since we were behind schedule, that meant pushing really hard for two more days, or extending into a third day, and I’d have to go into work for a few hours when we returned. I didn’t have enough internal motivation in me to make it.

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These little white flowers always give me a little boost when I walk past them. They remind me of stars.

 

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More happy little flowers

 

I’m not going to give a play-by-play of the weekend –like most backpacking, it involved hiking, filtering water, eating, and more hiking. This one did have the unique quality of containing more bushwhacking than I’ve ever experienced (or ever care to again!), so much so that our pace was cut in half and we didn’t make as many miles as planned on the first day, throwing off the rest of the trip. There was also the fact that wading through knee-to-neck-height bushes, and being unable to see the ground beneath my feet, trusting in Not-a-Bear that we were in fact on a trail (we always were, he has mad trail-finding skills) was not my idea of a fun backpacking weekend.

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Not-a-Bear bushwhacking. Note the person holding the camera is eight inches shorter than him.

The trail did finally become visible in the afternoon, as we zigzagged up steep switchbacks through fields of wildflowers cleared of trees by a not-so-recent burn. We climbed up and up and up through little clouds of pale purple wild hollyhock that emitted a soft sweet scent. We were greeted at the top of the ridge by views of the valley and opposite hills. So yeah, that part was nice, but the bushwhacking before it had just exhausted me, physically and mentally.

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There are a few advantages to being a weekend warrior, like getting to wear clean undies everyday, and deciding to turn back and go home if you’re not having fun, which is what we did this trip. You can’t really turn around and go home when you are in the middle of the wilderness, but you can have a Plan B, which, for us, meant modifying and shortening our loop.

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I don’t really know where this post is going. Looking back at the photos I took, the nostalgia of Type 2 fun has already set in, and I’ve deemed it a good weekend now that I’m showered and rested (still 24 miles over two days). I guess it’s to try to explain to you, and to myself, that things still feel different post-thru-hike, and that continues to surprise. It’s been two years since our PCT hike and I still think about it almost every day, especially this time of year. (Although, I think because we moved to a completely different part of the country and started new jobs, some of that processing time got pushed back.) I know from keeping in touch with other hikers, some of them feel the same (and I also follow the blogs of a fair number of them who just never stopped hiking). I still haven’t quite figured out how to place that five months of my life into my current life. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a problem (hiking the PCT was an amazing experience I wouldn’t trade for anything), it’s just a thing that is different about my life that I’m still trying to figure out. For any of you out there thinking of your own future thru-hike, it’s food for thought. Any other Class of ’15ers out there reading this, what is it like for you two-years-post-hike?

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I actually like stream-crossings, despite the face.

We’ve got a few more trips in store for the summer I’ll be sharing –a little lower on the adventure scale (i.e. no bushwhacking), and higher on the bucket list. You can also check out what I’ve been up to at https://passionproject.net/ and https://catiejoycebulay.com/publications/, and keep in touch on Twitter @catiejoycebulay or Instagram @catesway.

And here’s a few hikers who managed to keep the party going:

Puff Puff, who did the PCT again, backwards last summer and is currently cycling at The Mountains are Calling

One of Us, hiking the CDT, after hikes in South America and Europe at The Connor Chronicles

and Shepard, whom I never met, but who’s blog I enjoyed reading to learn what was coming up ahead of us on the PCT, and who is now on the AT at BikeHikeSafari.

Going wherever it leads as long as it leads somewhere worthwhile,

~Comet

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PCT Revisited: Providing Some Magic to Hungry Hikers in Oregon

Charlton Lake, Oregon

Charlton Lake, Oregon, first thing in the morning, before a beautiful trail run, then quick swim –ah, camping life

This past weekend Not-a-Bear and I donned our trail names once again and headed to the PCT –this time as trail angels, and weekend car campers, at Charlton Lake in the Willamette National Forest, near Bend, Oregon. The lake and campsites that surround it are on a lovely stretch of trail surrounded by tall pines and dotted with crystal clear lakes. We passed through the area last year at this time (about a week later), and figured there would probably be a good-sized pack of this year’s PCT thru hikers to feed.

We were right! We lost count, but we probably saw around 40 hikers in the two days were we there. We grilled up 60 hamburgers, 32 hot dogs, and 2 veggie burgers, and doled out 48 cans of soda (grape, strawberry, and cream soda were the hits, and favorites of mine on the trail), 72 beers, 2 bags of applies, 4 giant bags of potato chips, sour patch kids, a bag of baby carrots, and lots of baked goods –basically everything we craved as hikers. We didn’t bring any food back with us and ran out earlier than we’d expected.

We had a blast! For those of you unfamiliar with trail magic, it is when strangers give unexpected food to hikers. This could be in the form of a cooler by a trail head filled with cold soda, or cooking up an actual

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fun time feeding new friends

meal. It is something you don’t expect on the trail, but is always appreciated, and often the pick-me-up you need at just the right time. Our highest compliments of the weekend were from hikers who told us they were having a really bad day until they saw our signs on the trail for burgers and beers, and then things picked up. I remember feeling the same.

finally got to break out the hammock we got as a wedding gift, thought I'd have more time to relax in it, but we were quite busy with our guests!

finally got to break out the hammock we got as a wedding gift, thought I’d have more time to relax in it, but we were quite busy with our guests!

We really enjoyed chatting with this year’s hikers and learning about how different the trail is compared to last year. For one thing, they got a lot of snow in the Sierras and had some miserable sounding stories involving miles of snowfields, ice axes, and micro-spikes. I am glad that wasn’t us last year! 2015 was an exceptionally low snow year, followed by a pretty high one this year. This led to more water in sections that were very dry for us, but also an increase in mosquitoes. We had a small smokey campfire burning all weekend to keep them down, but when you left that circle you certainly felt them, and many hikers came in with bug netting covering their faces. The bugs were long gone last year at this time.

For us it was nostalgic to be hanging with hikers again (I didn’t even mind the smell!), and fun to live vicariously for the weekend. For me especially it was really nice to feel like I fit in, something I struggled with most of my own hike last year. I finally felt like I earned my trail cred. It felt good to be able to give advice to this year’s hikers, share our stories, and listen to theirs.

Deschutes River, near Bend

Deschutes River, near Bend

It was a great group of hikers, and just a perfect weekend, topped by heading into Bend on Sunday for the night. Since we ran out of food on Saturday, we left a little earlier than planned and had time to check out some of the sights around Newberry National Volcanic Monument, like Lava River Cave, a cave created by a hollowed out lava tube, and some rapids on the Deschutes River. Then we spent the afternoon and evening exploring McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School, a Catholic School beautifully and creatively restored to a hotel, complete with a soaking pool, several bars and restaurants, and even hidden rooms filled with very cool art work.

one of many really cool pieces of art at Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend

one of many really cool pieces of art at Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend

Now we are home, back to the real world, but it was a great mini-vacation.

Over-and-out,

Comet

P.S. If you’d like to see some of the things I’ve been up to check out The Passion Project, especially the profile of potter, Amy Hepner, a thru-hiker we met on-trail last year. Subscribe to read about another creative thru hiker I met in the next installment.

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sunset, Charlton Lake

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moon’s reflection

 

 


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Post Trail Update: Finding Passion in the “Real World”

Hello adventurers,

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Not-a-Bear exploring the Snake River on a recent day hike

I write this as many soon-to-be thru hikers are in the final stages of preparing for their hikes. I can’t say that a part of me isn’t a little envious and doesn’t long to be out there with them. I still long for the simple life the trail provided, for all that time spent out in the open air, even for the feeling of sheer exhaustion at the end of the day that only a thru-hike can bring.

Yet, I can’t say I’m not enjoying where I am right now. Writing is now the major focus of my life, and I love it.

Also, I am realizing what an influence the trail had on my writing.  When I started the PCT, my novel was more than half finished. But it wasn’t until I was hiking that I began to understand what it means, and what it takes, to be a writer. During the long miles of walking day-in and day-out, I let the story percolate. I spent hours a day just walking and thinking, until the novel bloomed in my mind. I sketched out fragmented outlines in my tent at the end of the day by the light of my headlamp. I was often too exhausted from hiking to go into much detail, but was determined to at least get the bare bones of the day’s thoughts down.

After the trail, I sat down with those fragments and finished the story. I am now deep in the slow and methodic process of editing, culling and crafting each sentence of that flimsy first draft into workable prose. I go back to my time on the trail again and again for motivation. The days of slow progress walking my way up the west coast proved great practice for the slow days of editing.

The Passion Project

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Columbia River Gorge, driving to my first interview for The Passion Project

Along with novel editing, picking up a little grant writing work, and some freelance blogging (that actually pays!), I’ve also created a new web site. The Passion Project is an exploration of passionate people and the work they love. Here’s a little preview, since I think those that enjoy nature and hiking are often interested in passion:

Sufi mystic and poet Rumi said, “Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

I met a guy in line at Starbucks who found a three cent nickel while digging in his garden, dated 1859. He brought the worn coin out of his pocket to show me, and proceeded to tell me the fascinating history around this era, so eloquently. Then he picked up his latte and left.

That was what excited his spirit.

I heard a story on NPR about a scientist who has been studying how oysters and mussels make the glue that helps them stick to rocks. He has been studying this for 13 years! He said he’d love to invent that billion dollar recipe for surgical glue, but it isn’t the end result he’s interested in—he loves the process. He came up with the idea while scuba diving. When he was being batted around by the waves on a stormy day, he noticed the mussels and barnacles were staying put. They were sticking firmly to the rocks that his face was bashing up against. And then he knew—that’s what he wanted to study.

That’s what excited his spirit.

I love running into these moments of the excited spirit. I love to see what makes your face light up when you talk about something, what carries you away, what you geek out on. I love the way the tone of your voice changes, the way you start talking faster or, sometimes, slower. Your eyes get a little wider, cheeks ever-so-slightly flushed, a little short of breath.

You could say that is what excites my spirit. I have a passion for passionate people.

 

Read the rest of the story here, and the first installment of The Passion Profiles, where I spend the day with a museum curator here.

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among the winter wheat in Walla Walla

I haven’t abandoned adventure, and will continue to use Going Wherever It Leads as the place to document the adventures of Comet and Not-a-Bear. We’ve already got some new plans in the works!

And if you’d like to read more about the post-trail re-acclimation process of some other hikers, some we met along the way, check out this blog.

 

Onward,

Comet/Catie


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Post-trail Musings

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the many faces of Not-a-Bear, pre/mid/post-trail

Sometimes people ask, “What was it like?” after we tell them we hiked the PCT, the whole thing.

This is such a hard question, but my answer, in trying to convey an experience few people have had, is “Everything.” It is everything; all of the emotions, all of the things, happen on the trail, just very, very differently. It is wonderful, it is horrible, it is boring, it is painful, it is amazingly beautiful, sometimes it is all of these things at once. It is like life, a lifestyle. Even though my life now is very different from my life before the trail, both are so vastly different than on the trail.

And it does change you. And I do miss it. This is not me being romantic, because, as you read from my posts on trail, I really struggled and I was so relieved to be done with it. I still am. But now. Life is just different. It’s hard to explain the difference and it’s hard to explain the change. I will say, for me anyway, and it is different for everyone, it was very gradual. When I got off the trail, I got off it. I didn’t think about it much at all for the first three months (hence, the lack of blogging). I caught up on sleep. I enjoyed showering whenever I wanted, and flushing a toilet. I ate fresh vegetables. But now I am ready to start processing, and even, to start writing about it.

The Straight Facts, Post-trail

After making our way back to the states, we meandered by bus and train back to Oregon. We spent a few weeks in the small town of Oakridge in the big forest of the Willamette with my relatives, recharging, re-acclimating, trying not to eat everything in sight, and looking for our next steps. We found them in Eugene, still a temporary placement. I had a friend from grad school with a lovely little furnished mother-in-law apartment above his garage, perfect for us, since we had no furniture, no jobs, and didn’t want to commit to a lease when we didn’t know where we might find those things (the jobs mainly).

I soon found a temporary job at Barnes and Noble, as extra help for the holidays. I’d never worked retail, but I’d always secretly wanted to work in a bookstore, especially one with a coffee shop in it. I had a blast. Being surrounded by books and people who love them all day was fantastic. It was the leave-at-work job of my dreams –except for the minimum wage pay.

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Exploring the Oregon Coast

During this time, Jason was searching for work. Since the field he was looking in was harder to find employment than mine, his job search would dictate where in the Pacific Northwest we would end up. After a few months of searching, he found a position in Walla Walla, Washington. He is now the new Conservation Director at Blue Mountain Land Trust. And we just spent our first full week living there.

It’s a sweet town of about 40,000, which is probably the right size for both of us (me, leaning towards larger, Jason leaning towards smaller, this a nice compromise in the middle). We have rented a lovely house right downtown, where we can walk to absolutely anything we need. Jason walks to work.

We came with no furniture and two car loads worth of stuff. So I spent the first week in the throes of nesting, trying to make a place that felt like a more permanent home. Something we hadn’t had for almost a year. I swung back and forth between enjoying this, and feeling a bit suffocated.

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Walla Walla Valley

The feeling of buying all of the things again that we had just gotten rid of –everyday all this stuff– weighed me down a little more each day. There is a great lightness in your being when you are not weighed down by stuff, when you can pick up and move whenever, wherever you want. But, after a while, I focused on the enjoyment of this process instead. I had to, but also, it feels very good to have a place to come home to, to rest, to feel totally, well, at home.

The Facts that are Harder to Say

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one of the hundred+ wineries in Walla Walla

So, that’s what we’ve been up to for the past few months. And now, I’ll tell another version of it, for me, anyway. Because Jason’s experience of the trail, on and off, has always been quite different than mine.

Like I said early, when I first got off the trail, I didn’t think much about it at all. It was so far removed from the reality of day-to-day life that it felt like a dream that I only remembered pieces of here and there. But as time went on, I began remembering more and more pieces, and found myself thinking about the trail more and more, even thinking of it fondly. Memory is funny like that; it somehow eases the bad and amplifies the good.

Now I didn’t miss everything about it, for sure. There was one morning recently that I was complaining of being tired and didn’t want to get up. Jason jokingly said, as he’d often say to me in earnest in the tent on a morning like that, “Come on Comet, we only have 20 miles to walk today.” And the relief I felt for that not being the case reminded me, also, how freeing it was for me not to be on the trail, not to have to hike everyday, whether I was tired or not (and every day you are).

It’s hard to put into words the change. But it’s there. It’s the little things that are probably easiest to explain. I don’t shower everyday any more, since I realized my skin and hair actually appreciate this. I look at food differently. I now believe antiperspirant is a placebo. The little concrete changes like that, I can explain. But some of it I just cannot. At least not now.

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Palouse Falls, WA, on my 35th birthday, still rockin’ the puffy

In the last two weeks of the trail, I had convinced myself I finally knew why I’d done this god-awful thing, something that was bugging me from early on. I’d finally decided I did it because I was too afraid to do the thing I really wanted to do –quit my job, move out west, and pursue creativity. I needed a something in between. The trail gave me that. It gave me courage to face this next step, I thought. And in some ways, I was right. I am braver now. It is easier to face challenging tasks in the real world, because most of them aren’t as challenging as hiking 20+ miles on not enough sleep or calories, in elevation, or heat, or cold.

But, in another way I was wrong about why I hiked, and I didn’t realize this till just the other day. I did it just to do it. And that is enough. That’s the answer most people will give you. Most people will give this answer to you before, during, and after their hike. But it took me a little longer to figure it out for myself (for various struggles within my personality or astrology). But you do it just to do it, for the experience of the thing.

One of the things Jason would say to me on trail, to help keep me going, when I really wanted to quit, was that later, I would be glad I did it, or regret not doing it if I didn’t. This was something he couldn’t explain, but he just knew was true. It wasn’t great motivation at the time, but somehow it kept me going. And he’s completely right. I’m so glad I didn’t quit. I’m so glad I made it to Canada.

I don’t regret any mile I walked. I also don’t regret any mile of trail I didn’t walk. My little breaks for various reasons added up to missing about 500 miles of the 2,659-mile trail. But those missed miles allowed me to complete the trail, complete it my way. As Pink Floyd said in a song I heard for the first time on the trail, and was a great inspiration to me, “I’ll climb that hill in my own way.” I always seem to do just that.

Listen to the song here.

And on this next hill, I am still afraid, it is still scary, but I will climb it in my own way.

 

Still going wherever it leads,

Comet/Catie

P.S. If you completed the trail, did you experience similar post-trail feelings? Different? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section.


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We made it! PCT complete


On Day 158 of our journey we crossed the border into Canada, completing the 2659 mile Pacific Crest Trail. Jason hiked almost every mile and I clocked in at about 2100, none of which I could have done without Not-A-Bear.

I’d say what a feeling, but honestly it hasn’t sunk in yet.


We are currently riding on a bus, away from the trail, to Vancouver where we’ll catch another bus to Bellingham to visit friends for the weekend. Then we’ll take another series of buses back to Eugene. What took us six weeks to walk will take three days to travel by bus, less if we wanted.

There will be more blog posts to come as I catch up on sleep and process the last five months. For now, I’m happy not to be walking any more, especially since today is cold and rainy.

We timed our last few days on the trail perfectly, sunny the whole way, and walking into Manning Park, BC was one of those perfect warm fall days you revel in.

The monument (Officially called Monument 78 for some reason) is right at the border, stateside, just in the middle of the woods. We got there around 6 p.m. On Wednesday, hung out with a few other hikers, took pictures.


We had to fill out and mail in a permit for Canada entry, that was approved and mailed back to us months ago. Other than that, crossing the border here is pretty unceremonious. You just continue down the trail, no one checking passports or permits. We camped at a campsite just up the trail, then had 8.5 Canadian miles to hike to the official end of the trail in Manning Park, BC.


Thanks for following along!

The journey’s not over,

Catie


  


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Leisurely Making Our Way to the Border + An Interesting Bear Story

So we have decided to enjoy the last days of the trip – no rain/snow for us, no sleeping at high elevation if we can help it, no big miles. But still, only four more days!

We are in the very tiny town of Mazama today, taking our last zero to wait out some weather, then the forecast is clear skies till the end of trail!

The day before yesterday we were in Stehekin, where we picked up our last mail drop. The very friendly post master, an old man with a big beard and a patch over his eye, looking more like a sea captain, said he’d been waiting for us after we gave our last name. He even remembered my first name and that it had an unusual spelling. He said we won the prize this year for most mail!

our loot , at the dock on Lake Chelan

We also won the prize for the only re

supply
box that rats got into, he very apologetically told us ,
and said we could fill out a claim. I didn’t think a bag of cheezits was worth the paperwork, which was luckily the only thing they got into.

 

Rats!

Thank you so much to everyone who sent us something! It was like Christmas! Thank you to my aunts Tammy and Dody for the inspirational cards, to my friend and former neighbor Joyce for the creative and inspiring cards, to Kate for the yummy treats and batch of beautiful cards from her summer, Liz and Becca for the candy and card, my mom for supplying us and our hiker friends with whoopie pies throughout our journey, Jason’s parents for his birthday gift. As well as previous mail drops, Veronica for the Probars, and Dan for introducing me to the wonderful world of Starbucks drink mixes, and anyone I missed, it was all greatly appreciated. (Also, Dan another thank you, it was you who first introduced me to the trail, telling me about your hike on a carpool to an eval.)

We know we couldn’t have done this trail alone. While I’m on a thank you kick, I might as well continue…all the kind people that gave us rides, and trail magic, most recently the lovely cup of hot tea and other treats back in the beginning of Washington when the weather was at its most miserable.

Also, as another hiker put it, friends and family are the best trail angels. I deeply thank those friends and family who have supported us on and off the trail by giving us places to stay, bringing us food, or just offering words of encouragement  and support when I most needed it.

And thank you Kim for the kick-ass training program you created for me prehike. I’ve been wanting to thank you since the Sierras –all those stream crossings were made much easier with all the balancing exercises you had me doing! Even before that, thanks to Allied PT and my talented knee surgeon. My knee was maybe the one part of my body that never gave me any grief!

And the last group I must thank is all of the other thru hikers on this trail, that have made me laugh when I wanted to cry, see the joy and beauty in the trail when I no longer could, or just commiserate in our shared misery. (Thank you Pretzel for finally saying it out loud, sometimes we all just hate hiking.). What a wonderful and wacko group you are!

Washington has been kicking our hiker butts! The last few sections have easily been the toughest on the trail, elevation gains  certainly comparable to the Seirras but with the added bonus of poorly maintained trails and shitty weather.

 

trail or obstacle course?

But we’re making it! The sun did peek out here and there. Stehekin was a lovely place to visit, right on beautiful Lake Chelan, with an amazing bakery. Mazama is another cute little far-off-the-beaten-path town. We’re tired but in good spirits, as are the few other hikers around us, and we’re ready to tackle those last 70 miles! 

  

made me want to paint this scene

 

my “really, Washington?” faced selfie in the freshly fallen snow

 

Glacier Peak Wilderness

 

winter and fall in same shot

 

just a gorgeous day in the Cascades

 

 Ok, now for the part you really want to read – the bear story (I hope you didn’t just skip to this part of the post;)

Yesterday, we hiked out with a group of other hikers. We’re hiking along and hear a whistle sound. Now, a few days ago we’d identified a bird that makes a sound just like a whistle, so I thought that’s what this was. But this one was incessant. We come upon the couple ahead of us and she tells us there is a bear near the trail, while he is blowing his whistle and shouting, trying to scare it away.

It was right on the trail when they came upon it, and it moved a little further up the bushes, munching on them and not giving a hoot about the noisy hikers below. It wouldn’t budge. This went on for maybe 20 minutes, with Jason adding to the shouts, and me staying at a greater distance with the wife, who was quite beside herself over the predicament.

Eventually one of the other hikers came up and bravely, yet gingerly walked below the bear (about 30 feet from the trail). By this time, the bear had stopped eating and lay itself down on a big rock, belly-down, paws hanging over the sides, chin also resting on rock. It did pick its head up to watch the hiker, Sunshine, pass by, but didn’t lift another muscle.

We weren’t quite as brave, but we did realize we couldn’t just live on this spot of trail, we did still have to get to Canada. We tried climbing down the ravine to go around the trail, but it was too steep. So we figured if we all went as a group, the bear would probably leave us alone.

Just then, yet another hiker, Catwater, from Alaska, came along and confirmed our plan was a good one, having had more experience with lazy bears than any of us. So we marched in a tight row, hiking poles in the air to make us look bigger, clacking them together and singing “When the Saints Go Marching In” right past the bear, who again only lifted its head to watch us pass, Catwater stopping to take a picture.

That was definitely the best view I’ve ever gotten of a bear. It was a black bear, but its color a rich brown and bigger than any one I’d seen in Maine. And we have a good story to tell now when people ask us to tell them a story from the trail, as they often do.

Onward to the border!

Comet/Catie


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Marathoning through Washington + Encounters with Wildlife

On this stretch our daily mileages were 26, 26, 27, 19; motivated by warmth and shelter. We knew if we did two marathon-length days out of White Pass, on the second night we could stay in a cabin, maintained by a local snowmobile club. It was warm, with a wood stove, wonderful after most of the day in cold, clouds, and wind. Sharing the loft with a bunch of other hikers lined up in our sleeping bags wasn’t the best night’s sleep, with all the sleeping pad noises, farts, and snores, but it was warm.

Then the next day, we pushed to do 27, because some southbounders had told us about an abandoned weather station, with electricity, lights, place to charge phones. (Though we didn’t end up staying inside since there were no trespass signs and it was a little creepy and smelly. The weather wasn’t too bad that night.)

Then that only left us with 19 miles into Snoqualmie Pass today. At which point we have completed 90 percent of the trail, mileage-wise, and we will complete the last 10 percent  in the next two weeks!

Two more weeks! It feels like I have been waiting forever to say that! We are at the point now where we just want to be done. It’s already been a long journey.

They were all long hard days partially because of the terrain, a lot more up and down than we’d gotten used to in Oregon, but mostly because of the weather, which ranged from cold and cloudy, to misting, to pouring rain, to snow and hail. But, my feet didn’t hurt (well, just in the typical walking all day way, not the awful screaming at me way they had been). And that I am so grateful for, it makes a huge difference. Unfortunately, Jason’s are starting to bother him a little more though.


  
Washington has been a little coy with us thus far, only revealing parts of itself. The corridor within the fog we have gotten to see has been quite beautiful, but I know there is even more beauty hidden beyond those clouds. We went through Mt. Rainier National Park a few days ago without seeing even a glimpse of Mt. Rainier. The week before, it was Mt. St. Helen that slipped from our sight (although, we did see it from a distance one day in Oregon).

the clouds parted just enough to let on a snow cap, at one point I saw more snow behind it, perhaps Rainier?

 

fall colors brighten up a burn area a bit

Encounters with Wildlife

So, we have not had any encounters with the archetypical scary wild animals yet this trip (though we did possibly see a mountain lion on the trail from a distance back in Northern California, but we didn’t bother it and it didn’t bother us). We have however encountered archetypical cute animals acting not so cute. You’ll recall our deer story from earlier in the trip, now we have birds to add to it. There is a certain kind of bird (points if you can identify it for us) that likes to swoop down and visit during lunch and dinner breaks, getting aggressively close to us and our food bags. The other night, one swooped out of nowhere and landed on Jason’s hand holding his last bite of peanut butter and cheese tortilla. The bird didn’t get it, but after bird claws land on your dinner you don’t really want to eat it any more.

Here’s a picture of the same type of bird in Oregon hauling off a brownie someone had dropped. Do you know what kind?


Moral of the story: don’t feed the animals!

But do feed the thru hikers. The other day we were enjoying our second lunch by a cooler of trail magic. A father and son pull up on the dirt road near the trail. They approach us slowly and quietly, as if we are the wildlife. The father asks us the usual slew of questions, then they take off back to their truck.

We continue sipping our orange sodas and eating our cheezits, and a few minutes later they both return, the son shyly hiding behind his father, and the man gives us a couple fruit roll ups that he explains his son wanted to give us, very sweet.

Being a thru hiker gives you this new weird status. Sometimes you are treated like a wild animal, like walking down the road today, a car visibly slowed to stare at us. While others think you are doing something so wonderful (which I don’t really feel like we are), and they stop to tell you. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to feeling like a celebrity.

And one last thought of the day before I go to bed: Smells. It’s not true what they say, that you stop smelling yourself after a while. I think my sense of smell has actually heightened somehow. True, I don’t smell me all the time, but I know I stink, especially when our feet and our clothes and gear are  wet; we smell even worse.

But also the wonderful fall smells are in the air now, really my favorite time of year to hike, as long as the weather is being kind. So many different types of plants, all smelling differently–sweet firs, crisp drying leaves, plants that smell like herbs I can’t name.

And other hikers. There is a huge difference between a thru hiker and day hiker. I can smell the day hiker. I smell their laundry detergent, their soap, their shampoo, their lotion, women and men.  It’s really quite amazing, I never noticed how many different smells are on us.

So, now it is time for bed. We heard through the PCT rumor mill (yes, it’s as big as any small town’s) that the large section of trail that was closed due to fire has reopened, for better or for worse. We’ll confirm it tomorrow after the holiday on the PCTA’s web site. But we only have 268 miles left! Compared to the 2,390 we’ve done that doesn’t sound too bad! And the weather forecast has sun in it for the next ten days!

 

Washington sun finally showong itself today, headed into Snowqualmie, you can barely make out the chair lifts to the left

Keep on trekking,

Comet/Catie


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Wet Wet Washington

Written 9/1/15: 

Impressions of Washington: The forest, where we spend most of our time, is deep, even thicker than Oregon’s. It seems more green, more lush, more damp. We’ve certainly had our share of rainy and overcast days, which become even darker in the thick of the tree cover and hanging lichen.

 

Washington forest

Sometimes majestic, sometimes just eerie. Tonight we ate our dinner on a log, watching the clouds slowly envelop us from either side. In our tent now, happy to hear voices of other hikers stopped to camp next door. It’s nice to have neighbors on such a lonely feeling night, waiting for the rain to start.

 

deep in the woods

Yesterday we warmed up and dried off in the sweet little town of Trout Lake, our new favorite trail town. Everyone was so friendly. You enter it on a not very busy paved forest service road, so we’d called ahead to one of the local trail angels that morning when we had some cell reception on a ridge and scheduled a ride for that afternoon.

 

Trout Lake (though there is actually no longer a lake there, just a wetland)

We checked into the very lovely Trout Lake Valley Inn and soon another hiker couple was offering to drive us to dinner and the general store with a car they’d borrowed from the owner of the general store for the day (yes, people are just that nice!). I had my first huckleberries in the form of a milkshake, delicious! They’re basically like blueberries. Then it was hot tub and laundry time.

The next morning we’d prearranged a ride with another trail angel to drive us around the fire closure. The trail was closed right at the road we came in on and for the next 24 miles, which we already knew about and were planning to skip around. Some people are actually walking the road as a detour, but after being driven on the series of winding no shoulder paved roads and maze-like dirt logging roads, we knew we’d made the right decision and were lucky to have a driver who knew where he was going!

 

part of the fire closure detour

 

one of our few views of Mt. Adams, with fresh snow

Written on 9/3/15:

More rain, cold and wetness = an unplanned night in town after 3 days on the trail. Actually, not even a town. We’d hiked the 5 miles into White Pass to pick up our food resupply box and better rain gear (along with some birthday surprises for Jason, thank you!), and while hanging out with hot tea and coffee in our hands, trying to warm up, we decided as the hours wore on, hiking out was looking less and less appealing, especially with the forecasted evening rain. Right next door is a big ski lodge, open for the off season, and where we decided to check in for the night.

Yesterday was a long tough 21 miles on what I’m sure is a beautiful stretch of trail, we just couldn’t see most of it for the rain clouds. Although I do have to admit that the day was beautiful in it’s own way, I just couldn’t help thinking about what was behind all those clouds.

 

trailside waterfall

 

Goat Rock Wilderness in the clouds

 

glacier patch

We boulder-hopped (although in my case it looked more like boulder butt-scooting) a section to avoid a patch of snow. Then the trail gets very narrow as you climb up, down, around, and up, and down again on a stretch of trail known as the knife’s edge, passing by glaciers and steep drop offs. Again, I’m sure also gorgeous vistas on either side that we could not see. It was also sleeting with very strong winds, a pretty crazy walk. As I was doing it, it felt pretty exhilarating and cool at first, but that wore off and ended in exhaustion, with still ten more miles to slog through. Which we did, with a few breaks in the clouds.

clouds attempting to crest the peak looked like an errupting volcano

 

Goat Rock Wilderness

Then set up our tent and shivered in our sleeping bags, listening to the wind whip and watching it bend our tent poles towards us. Another reason we are in a bed tonight– for a good night’s sleep. When we got up this morning, there was ice on our tent and my shoe laces (we keep our shoes just outside the tent, under the rain fly) were so frozen I couldn’t tighten them.

In a few short days, really as soon as we crossed the border into Washington, it went from summer to fall (late fall temps).

 

little reminders fall is coming

  
Oh well, only another 366 miles to go! And tomorrow is Not-a-Bear’s birthday!

Currently warm and dry,

Comet/Catie


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Goodbye Oregon, Hello Washington Wildfires

So, we made it to Cascade Locks, the last stop in Oregon. We can see Washington from here! Tomorrow we will cross the Columbia River via the Bridge of the Gods (the place that Cheryl Strayed ended her hike in Wild) and enter our last state of the trail, with about 500 more miles in it, barring trail closures, I’ll get to that later.

Columbia River Gorge, Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks, OR

We’ve had a fun run in Oregon, hiking mainly in the “green tunnel” of big moss-covered trees. Some hikers use “green tunnel” as a negative term, complaining about spending so much time under tree cover, but I love it. It’s nice and cool and shady, and the forest has its own quiet beauty.

just a little log on the trail

Of course we’ve also got plenty of glimpses of the out loud beauty of mountains and
lakes this stretch as well.

South Sister, in Three Sisters Wilderness

 

Obsidian Falls in the Obsidian Limited Use Area

Also lava fields, cool when you first go through them, but then the other-worldly desolation kind of gets to you, especially coupled with large burn areas.

burn area in the lava field, most desolate stretch of trail for me

 

burned trees framing Five Fingered Jack

 

lava

 


We had a great bit of relief in the lava fields when two friends from Eugene, Lisa and Dean, came to re supply us for the next leg and brought a great picnic feast. We all had a nice swim at Lava Lake campground to cool off.

Then it was back on the trail. Except the next day we decided this stretch was a little too long, and we couldn’t make it to Cascade Locks without a little break. So we hitched into Sisters, which turned into a very restful zero the next day.

My feet were still hurting, so Jason suggested I see if the physical therapy office, literally right next door from our motel, had any appointments. Turns out they did, starting with an hour long foot and leg massage by their massage therapist. The PT saw me as well, kineseotaped my feet, gave me some new metatarsal pads for my inserts, gave me some other good tips, and assured me my feet would stop hurting when I stop walking. So the take away message is pain management until the end of the trail. Thank you so much Step and Spine Physical Therapy for your generosity!

My feet are actually feeling better now. They’ve gotten used to my new super cushy shoes, Altras, and with my old inserts, it seems to be a good combination. So good that after my first 29-mile day 2 days ago, I wasn’t any more sore than I’d expect to be, which is a great improvement.

Now, enough talk of feet. More interesting things– photos of waterfalls, lakes, and mountains. Our last day hiking into the Columbia River Gorge (lowest elevation on the PCT), we took a popular alternate trail, called Eagle Creek. This trail has tons of great stream and waterfall views, including the very cool tunnel falls, where you hike along a cliff’s edge to the waterfall and then go into a tunnel behind it, coming out the other side. When you get close to the falls, you get a little wet from the mist, and the tunnel is dripping and full of lush moss and ferns, one of my favorite experiences on the trail so far! Not as much for Jason, who is afraid of heights, but he troopered through it!

Mt. Jefferson

 

 

kayaker on Timothy Lake during our sunset swim

 

Timothy Lake during my sunrise foot soak

 

Mt. Hood

 

closer view of Mt Hood, early morning

 

Unfortunately, WordPress isn’t letting me upload the waterfall pictures. I’ll try on Instagram or in the next post.

As we head into Washington, we are faced with several large wildfires that have closed the trail in places. One trail closure will be coming up in few days, near Mt. Adams. We will skip ahead around it, getting a ride by car, missing about a day of trail.

The next closure isn’t for a few more weeks and affects a larger portion of trail. We will probably skip around this as well. However, lots of rain is predicted for the next few days, so this may help contain fires and possibly open trails. We’ll just wait and see.

The wildfires are all currently quite far from us and we are in no real danger. The PCTA and forest rangers do a great job of proactively closing trails for hiker safety, and getting the word out about them.

See you down the trail,

Comet/Catie

P.S. we’d love to get encouraging snail mail for our final push, also Jason’s birthday is this month! Check the Where We’ll Be page on this blog for addresses and mail it today so we’ll get it in time!


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Wildfires, Big Feet & OREGON!!!

So, if you’ve seen Instagram you know that we finally crossed the border into Oregon! We learned the hard and very long way that California is a very big state!

But before we get to Oregon, here’s a little more of Northern California. I last left you in the small town of Etna. From there, we hiked through the smoky haze of wildfires. We stopped to resupply in the very little town of Seiad Valley (in the lovely wanna-be state of Jefferson). It was a long hike into town (27 mile day) ending in a 7 mile road walk that is part of the actual trail.

It was such a long day because we didn’t make our planned mileage the day before. It was a very hot day and I started it out feeling sick. After a long morning rest, we only made 15 of the 20 planned miles. So by the time we got into Seiad we were pretty exhausted, but we managed to get some food for the next leg of the trip before the little general store closed, and shower and set up our tent in the local RV park beside it. It actually was kind of a fun day. Cooler than the day before, we had a couple nice opportunities to get wet in stream crossings, and an afternoon thunderstorm was just long enough to cool us off without leaving us soaked for the rest of the day.

hot and sick feeling this day, but some views are just too gorgeous to ignore

 

Grider Stream, a bridge burned in last year’s fire is of no use to us now, but it’s so hot we welcome the chance to take our shoes off and ford

 

this is not a sunset, but the wildfire haze makes it look like one

 

 

eerily beautiful sky reflected in the Klamath River, hiking the road into Seiad Valley

 

this also happened on that road, only 999 miles to Canada!

We were a little nervous about all of the smoke we were seeing (and inhaling), especially while passing through many miles of last year’s devastating fire. But we learned when we got to town that the smoke was coming from fires hundreds of miles away. This same smoke would follow us up into Oregon and mix with the smoke of its wildfires as well, still very far from the trail. Not too fun to hike in. You know those days when the weather forecasters warn to stay indoors and limit outdoor activities? A little hard to follow when your job is to hike all day.

yay Oregon!

 

more eerie wildfire sky


The smoke was just one of the factors that made me take my Oregon break a little early. The other was my feet and their amazing ability to outgrow my shoes. I finally realized in Etna that my feet have actually grown and this is the probable cause of most of my current foot pain. This was confirmed while trying on shoes here in Eugene. I am now an 8.5. This is common on the trail and I’ve read that some hikers’ feet never go back to their old size. (I wonder if there will be more shoe shopping in my post-trail future?)


After Seiad, and a very long climb out of town (about a 5000 foot elevation gain over 9 miles), it was only another few days to Ashland, a very cool town I’d always wanted to visit. We walked into Callahan’s Lodge to get our free hiker beers, then found a room in town.

 We returned to the lodge the next afternoon to fully make use of our zero day in one of their very nice rooms (hiker rate), including a jacuzzi tub. Shouldn’t zero without one!

The next day, we parted ways: Jason continuing the path to Canada and I being picked up by my ever-so-kind Oregon family, where I’m spending the week, with my car and all my stuff in storage there, as this is where we’ll be when we finish the trail. It’s a weird feeling to be parted with your “stuff” for so long, and then be reunited. More on that later I’m sure.

I spent the last few days shoe shopping, sleeping, and lying in bed reading frivolous novels on my kindle unlimited, zombie-like. After 5 days I finally feel human again, and, are you ready for this? ready to hit the trail!

Yesterday I visited Jason at Crater Lake National Park, about two hours from Oakridge (the town I’m staying in).  Seeing the other hikers and the beauty there made me miss it. I am developing quite the love-hate relationship for this trail.

us at Crater Lake, Wizard Island just behind us

 

Crater Lake

He’s been hiking the good hike, but he is getting tired too. I admire his determination not to quit, even if I don’t share it.

Not-a-Bear passed this a few days ago

 

In a few days I’ll pick him up at the trailhead at Willamette Pass, just a 40-minutes drive from Oakridge. He’ll take the next day off, then we’ll both head back out on the trail. We’ll have only about a week and a half left of Oregon, then it’s Hello Washington!

 

expressing my Oregon love at the border

Well rested and read,

Comet/Catie


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How Hikers Curb Boredom on Our Way to Oregon

Riddle: Come up and let us go, go down and here we stay.

Just about everything, even enjoyable things, when done over and over again get a little old. Hiking is no different. Do it everyday, all day and it gets a bit monotonous at times, especially in Northern California.

So, we do things to break up that monotony. A lot of hikers listen to podcasts or music.

Another thing we did this stretch is start solving riddles. We happened to fall into a group of friendly Canadians and one of them has a riddle app on his phone. Some are pretty easy, while others take a day or two of hiking to solve.

During another stretch we amused ourselves with a word game we’d seen being played out on signs on the trail. You think of all kinds of crazy word combinations that the letters P C T could stand for. Pina Colada Time was one of my favorites.

Some hikers amuse each other with practical jokes or pranks, like putting a big rock or a bunch of your trash in your friend’s pack and seeing how long it takes them to notice it’s there.

And then there is Toto Toyota the PCT hubcap.


When I first saw it, I thought it was the silliest thing, but then, isn’t this whole thing silly? It was found in Cajon Pass by the hikers Pretzel and Road Runner and has traveled with thru hikers on the trail ever since, each taking a turn carrying it 50-100 miles (it’s not really that heavy), then signing the back. You can follow its journey by searching the hashtag #tototoyotathepcthubcap on Instagram.

Not-a-Bear joked that the hubcap may be racking up more trail miles than I am. My response: it’s getting a free ride!

Also on this stretch, we stopped into the town of Mt. Shasta for a quick resupply and to get me some new shoe inserts at the outfitter there. I have to give another huge shout out to this outfitter, The Fifth Season, and especially Lief, the owner. He customized a pair of inserts for me by looking at my feet and the wear on my old inserts. My feet are still a work in progress, but I learned a lot from him and he gave me some extra foam to continue to add my own adjustments and get the pressure more evened out.

Northern California has been fairly flat and fairly uneventful. Here’s some photos of the scenic highlights.

 

Mt Shasta

a closer Mt Shasta

Jason getting ready for our seminightly foot soak and leg washing at Porcupine Lake where we camped one night

 

 

sunset camped on a ridgeline

 

shortly after sunrise same spot

 

hiking through the wildfire that closed the trail last year, a little eerie to think slmost exactly a year ago this was a thriving forest, now there is nothing living there

We’re in the small town of Etna now, Oregon so close we can smell it! We only have a few more days in California. It feels like a long time coming and I’m so excited!

See you in Oregon,

Comet/Catie

P.S. Did you get the riddle yet? I’ll post the answer in the next update.


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Volcanoes, Big Water Carries, and Town Food

There is such a stark contrast between our times in towns and our times on the trail. We go from one extreme to the other: from getting up early, spending all day on our feet, out in the open air, eating food out of ziplock bags to sleeping in, lying around in an air conditioned motel room on a soft bed, walking as little as possible, and eating as much as possible. Essentially, from extremely active to extremely lazy. And I love it! I love being able to order a big meal at a restaurant and finishing the entire thing (although Jason says he now has to rethink his ordering strategy to no longer include eating what’s left of my plate!). I love getting a little pang of afternoon hunger and filling it with whatever it is I’m craving – today a McFlurry.

 

ate all but 2 bites

We are zeroing today at the Charm Motel (hiker discount) in Burney, California, a little town big into fishing, and not much else. We hadn’t planned to zero or even come into this town, but here we are and happy we did.

Edit

Burney, CA

We just completed a tough stretch of trail. Hat Creek Rim, although one of the flattest sections, is also one of the hottest and driest. It is a 29.4 mile hike on top of the rim with no water and little shade, felt a bit like being back in the dreaded desert. A lot of it was through an old burn section, so at one point in time, it had been shadier.

Our plan was to do it all in one day, but after a 27 mile day before, my feet were aching and the heat was getting to us, so we put in 25 and called it good. We did carry enough water with us to be able to camp and have a little for the 4 mile hike to the creek the next morning. It was nice to be able to see Mt. Shasta for the first time, and the view of the valley below was nice.

 

first view of Mt Shasta, through a burn area

 

Mt Shasta

So the next morning, we decided that rather than stopping at Burney Falls State Park, where we’d planned on a quick resupply, meal, and shower, we’d earned ourselves a bed in town, especially since the last town we were in didn’t have any beds for us. This time we called and booked ahead before hitching in.

We had the nice big lunch special at the Chinese restaurant, where we learned, with the free wifi there, that the new shirt I ordered online and was having shipped to the state park wasn’t going to be there until Monday. Oh well, another day in town.

This last stretch also included Lassen Volcanic National Park, which was very cool. It is also very cool that as PCT hikers we get to pass through a lot of national and state parks for free, seeing parts of them that many tourists never get to experience, as well as some other perks I’ll get into in a bit.

Lassen is still an active geothermal area.  Its last eruption was in 1921. We did a side trail to Terminal Geysere, which is actually a big steam vent.

 

Terminal Geysere, Lassen

We walked past sulphur-smelling Boiling Springs Lake, literally boiling, with an average temperature of 125 degrees, and it’s bubbling mud pots.

Boiling Springs Lake

 

bubbling mudpots

 

Lassen Park

Then we got to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, one of the best perks on the trail, in my opinion. Another hiker we’d been leap-frogging dubbed it the best shower on the trail. I would concur. Plus, it was free! They also allow hikers to swim in their hot spring-fed pool (during the guest dinner hour). It felt so good to take a refreshing shower then emerse in the warm pool for a quick soak. Then, we got an all-you-can-eat buffet BBQ dinner for $14! And this was real food, not the diner food we’d been getting off trail. Real fresh salad, super sweet corn on the cob, baked potato drenched in butter and sour cream, and a variety of grilled meats– the perfect summer meal.

We’ve got a few more town stops in California, with Oregon on our mind!

Happily well-fed,

Comet/Catie

P.S. Next mail stop will be in Ashland, Oregon. Check the “where we’ll be” page for date and address.

yes, he ate all his

 


8 Comments

Quick Update & Funny Story

 Update first: Things are going better since my vacation from the trail. It is still a challenge, but I think just realizing that there isn’t going to be some magical point at which it becomes easy, at which our feet stop hurting, helps. There’s a reason not everyone does this.

Other things that have helped are breaking our lunch into two lunches. Before, I would hit a real low point after lunch, feeling really full, but also not having enough energy because the calories hadn’t yet converted. Eating smaller amounts more frequently helps. I’m also incorporating some yoga breathing into my nightly stretches, which helps me let go of the day and relax. Also just taking more time to stop and look around at the scenery to get out of my head.

And when none of that works, I listen to my favorite podcasts. Usually for those last few miles of the day, which another hiker dubbed the “fuck four.” You can see many a hiker suiting up with headphones during this time of day. It does a pretty good job of drowning out the screaming coming from my feet.

Highlights: 

The section from South Lake Tahoe to Sierra City may have been one of my favorites. We got into some tall tree forests, beautiful wildflower fields, and long stretches of walking atop the ridge crest, with gorgeous views on either side of us. It often reminded me of the opening scene of The Sound of Music, where Maria is spinning on a hilltop of wildflowers surrounded by mountains. That soundtrack was playing in my head for several days, which was actually quite uplifting.

 

lupines

the camera doesn’t do justice yo that lovely electric green moss

 We enjoyed Sierra City, which was not a city at all, but a quirky little rural town, home to a 1 pound burger that Jason ate two of while there.

Our first day out of town we were downpoured on, and spent the next two days drying out.

From Sierra City to Chester we had one “best of” and a couple momentous events.

Best swimming hole yet was at the middle fork of Feather River. Beautiful green Rapids rolling over smooth polished rocks, shooting us into little eddies and deep pools. For you Northern Mainers, it reminded me a little of Gauntlet Falls.

Two days ago we celebrated one year of marriage. How did we celebrate? Hiking, of course! And today we celebrated reaching the midpoint of the hike! (The technical halfway point will actually be a half mile out of Chester tomorrow, but close enough.) We are more than halfway done, time-wise. This works out because we now hike more miles per day and spend less time in town. I think back to our first day on the trail when it took us all day to do ten miles. Now we get ten miles done before the day’s half over!

 

midpoint

 

We are currently in Chester, CA. We just did our grocery shopping. All the motels were booked, so we are cowboy camping on the back deck of the Lutheran Church. (Many churches along the trail let hikers camp on their lawns.)
Funny Story:

So, last night I am sleeping in our tent, as usual, when I am awoken by Jason shouting “Hey!” at an animal he heard outside the tent. It’s important to note, when the rain fly is on, our tent has no visibility to the outside. The noise stops and we get out to pee.

I shine my light at a pair of eyes shining back at me several feet away in the trees. I keep shining the light, the shining eyes do not move. They do eventually slowly move on. We get back in our tent and fall asleep.

A couple hours later we awaken to the same sound. Jason shouts and claps and the animal slowly leaves the vicinity. It sounds big but we can’t tell what it is.

A few hours later, I awaken to digging near our tent door. I wake Jason up, put the headlamp on, we shout, we listen. It leaves, but then comes back. We hear a munching sound. The animal is eating the bush a couple feet from our tent. We can tell it is big, but it is not interested in us or our food. We scare it away again. It comes back, circling around our tent. It is so close, we can hear it moving really well. It almost sounds like it has hooves. Ok, is this just a deer? It’s back at the bush.

I finally get enough courage up to unzip the rain fly at the top, just a little, and peer out with the headlamp. Looking back at me with those shining eyes is a mule deer, a few feet away. We just stare at each other for a minute. Jason takes a look as well.

At this point, we give up on scaring it away. We lay back down, and as our hearts stop pounding, we hear more hooves, more munching. We are surrounded.

The End,

Comet

P.S. Does anyone have any favorite podcasts I should be listening to?

Mt. Lassen

 


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Sh#t Gettin’ Real

Composed on the trail 6/24:

This last stretch of trail (Bishop to Mammoth) was a really hard one for me, and today after two days in town and now back on the trail I’m beginning to process why.

Granted, it was probably the most difficult stretch of trail, terrain-wise, and after two months my body is now operating on a calorie deficit, where it is just hungry all the time without realizing it. But also, I’ve discovered, any issues you have in life follow you out onto the trail. They don’t go away. In fact they reverberate off the trees and mountains like an echo. Only instead of fading like echoes, they get louder. They are amplified by the fact you are physically exhausted and starving your body.

Issues.  We’ve all got them. Here are some of mine that have been out to play lately: anxiety about the future, the need to always have a plan, the need for control, and the desire for perfection. These little guys have been haunting me on the trail too, making for one tough hike mentally.

I reached a breaking point on this last stretch. When you get to this point there are only two options — push through or quit, right?

Well, I’ve always been a fan of the middle ground, so I came up with one more — take a break, a time out. My plan: one week off the trail to take a mental break, a step back to let my body and mind recharge and find the motivation to continue. But because the march to Canada before snow continues, Jason will continue on without me for these days. (Yes, for you purists, I realize I have just lost the title of official thru hiker, and I am completely at peace with that. I need to do this trail my way.)

Now my troubles on the trail are no worse than any other hikers. I share all this just to let you in on an honest look at what the experience has been for me. I don’t want your pity (or envy) as these are all my choices I bring upon myself.

Also, not every hiker is like this. Jason, for instance, is a natural thru hiker. He shrugs off physical discomfort and has his eye on the prize at all times –Canada. I’ll tell you about some other hikers I’ve met as well. I ran into a woman again recently that I’d met earlier who hiked the trail last year. She told me she cried all the time (me also this last week), and she struggled all the way to Canada. Another hiker said this was all so much easier than he thought it would be and he hadn’t really experienced any challenges yet. And another, hiking the trail for his second consecutive summer, said he had never felt happier in his life than when he was on the trail.

There are as many different experiences as there are hikers. The tales in this blog are only one of them.

Even though I am looking forward to my break and visit with friends, as I sit here in our tent, in our little slice of heaven, secluded and surrounded by those rugged mountain peaks, watching the last soft pink glow of daylight fade into night, I know I am not done with this trail yet. Even if I have a love/hate relationship with it, I am not done yet.


Composed 6/30, on a bus to Stockton:

So I am recharging with two good friends I haven’t been able to visit with in years, and get the privilege of meeting their beautiful children for the first time.

I was going to leave the trail to visit them from Mammoth, but I literally could not get out of that town without it being on my own two feet. There were no rental cars left and no trains or buses till the weekend, so I had to get back on the trail and hike two more days to Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite. In the end this ended up being a good thing, and the two days were both pleasant and beautiful hikes.

It took us two days to figure out that I couldn’t get out of Mammoth though, which meant Jason and I had a great double zero in a cool town that I was relaxed enough in to enjoy. We had the best sushi we’ve had in a trail town yet, that piña colada I’ve been craving for the last 200 miles; we even found an outdoor ping pong table and played a round.

best caramel apple ever!

Since getting off the trail, I’ve taken naps, gotten a foot massage, played in the park and pool with children, taken a yoga class, and eaten, and eaten, and eaten. I’m feeling more myself again and have some new strategies for making this journey more my own. It was such a new and foreign experience for me for the first two months, but now that I’ve experienced it and had some distance from that experience, I can see it differently and can rely on my own instincts now rather than trying to model my hike off others.

2 reasons getting off the trail was worth it: this cutey and the Mexican Restaurant she’s standing in front of

So, I’ll let you know how that goes! Jason’s hike is going well. He got into Bridgport yesterday and discovered the wildfire that was burning near the next section of trail is contained and the trail is safe to travel through. He’ll be in South Lake Tahoe on Thursday where I will meet him in a rental car, and we’ll hike out the next day. Now finished with the Sierras and entering into the Northern California section of the trail.

Now here’s some reasons why I love the trail:

High Sierra peaks in still of early morning

alpine lake blue, my new favorite color

that’s about as far as I got, freezing!

Muir Hut atop of Muir Pass, around 11,000 feet

amazing walk through Evolution Valley

Devil’s Postpile National Monument, basalt rock formations

river shortly after entering Yosemite Park through Donahue Pass

Yours truthfully,

Comet/Catie


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Bonus Post: “500 Miles” PCT Remix by Not-a-Bear

So I think I mentioned before, Jason spent a good 200 miles coming up with new lyrics to the song “I’m Gonna Be,” (aka “500 Miles”) by the Proclaimers. We wrote out the whole thing in the PCT log book at Kennedy Meadows (I transcribed since Jason has horrible handwriting). Enjoy. You have to have the tune in your head when you read it. Hopefully you can see it all in the photos.

    


And here’s a picture of Not-a-Bear inspecting a red flower with his new red shoes. I got my new shoes today -happy days!  And my new Super Feet insoles I got last week from The Animal (who blogs at Finding My Berrings) have my feet feeling much better. Who knows what that red flower is? Or even if it is a flower?  Signing off with happy feet,

Comet & Not-a-Bear

 


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A Tale of Two PCTs: Desert and Not a Desert

We are finally out of the desert! When I last left you, we were in Tehachipi, headed out into the driest and most miserable stretch of the trail. We spent seven hot, dry and exhausting days hiking to Kennedy Meadows.

I don’t have much else to say about it. Our packs were weighted down with loads of water. We’d be up by 4 a.m. to hike in the cool of the morning, before the sun beat us down, rest in what little shade we could find for the hottest part of the day, then hike till dark. Just trying to get through it.

But we made it to Kennedy Meadows–considered a big deal, as it means we hiked over a quarter of the trail, and we end Southern California and begin the High Sierras – where all the fun starts!

Most hikers hang out at Kennedy Meadows General Store, where you can camp, use an outdoor shower, port-a-potties, and work your way through the very long line for the one washing machine, and dry your clothes on the line out back. There is a grill that cooks lunch and sometimes breakfast, and a pick up truck that carts loads of hikers to Grumpy’s Restaurant down the road for dinner, drinks, and all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts.

We ended up staying for two zeroes, since our crew of hiker friends has gotten behind us, because they’d resupplied in a town we bypassed. Unfortunately, they wanted to take an extra zero as well (KM has a weird way of sucking you in). We couldn’t handle yet another day there, so we moved on without them, but it was nice to reconnect for a bit and we’ll see each other again.

Not a Desert

After Kennedy Meadows, it was as if it was a new trail. The desert just did not jive with my soul, but it is definitely gettin’ down with the Sierras. This trail is the one I’ve been dreaming of –gorgeous valleys, alpine meadows, lakes, streams, waterfalls, giant trees, crazy mountain peaks, just amazing! We enter Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Parks.

But it has not been without its challenges. We’ve been rained, hailed, or snowed on for 4 of the 7 days of this stretch. We’re also spending most of our days and nights at higher elevations than anything on the East Coast.

Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous U.S., at 14,505 feet, is in this stretch. It’s not part of the PCT, but most hikers do this popular side trail. Our plan was to camp a few miles up the trail, then summit in the morning. But of course, plans are made to be broken (especially on the PCT). We hiked to our planned camping spot, on Guitar Lake, in the snow with a little bit of thunder. We set up our tent in record time!

 

what we hiked into, another hiker, Sas’s tent in the snow, Guitar Lake

 

 

what we woke up to

 

view of Guitar Lake from Mt Whitney trail

 

more stunning views

The next morning, it had stopped snowing, much of it had even melted. There was patches of sunlight hitting the peaks, unfortunately not the peak we wanted to climb. Whitney was shrouded in clouds, but we decided to give it a go anyway. The hike up to the clouds was some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen. Then we hit clouds, and snow, coupled with elevation, very slow climbing. We made it up to the ridge crest, only another 1.9 miles to summit, but the trail was getting a bit treacherous with the new and old snow.

 

headed up the Mt. Whitney trail in the clouds

We had a decision to make –to summit or not. This brought up some interesting questions about why one chooses to summit a mountain anyway. I realized for me, that breathtaking view you get at the top is the biggest reason, and that wasn’t happening today. The summit was going to look just like the spot we were standing in. We ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it, today was not our day, but just getting that far was still pretty great, at 13,500 feet the highest we’d ever been.

So we hiked back down, ate lunch, dried everything out in the sun, and got back on the PCT, setting us up for Forester Pass in the morning. This night we managed to get our tent all set up before the rain started.

 

high fashion on the trail, matching rain gear

 The rain stopped sometime in the night, but then began again just as we started our hike the next morning, and didn’t stop. Then, as we approached Forester Pass (at 13,000 feet, the highest point on the PCT), the lovely alpine lakes were still frozen and the rain turned to snow.

 

heading to Forester Pass

 

the pass is somewhere up that rock wall in those clouds

Hiking up the pass is probably best described in pictures. It was crazy.

 

hiking up to Forester Pass

almost there, Jason bottom right, little dots on top of snow 2 other hikers

 

the pass from below

 

lake looking down from trail

Then we get to the top and share the experience and amazing view with 3 other hikers, 2 of whom are musicians. One whips out a mini guitar and they start singing a beautiful song about the PCT, that sounded like they just wrote it. It was a magical moment.

The rest of the day was filled with more breath-taking views. I felt like I was walking through a calendar all day. Everywhere you turned was a calendar-worthy view. I don’t even have to try, the photos take themselves.

sweet spot for a break, Bubb’s Creek

 

Then the sweetest end to this lovely day — a spaghetti dinner, the very meal I’d been craving for the past 2 days! We walk up to a campsite, greeted by a man with a brogue who shakes our hands and gives us a ziplock goodie bag of chips, granola bar, and cinnamon roll, and tells us there is spaghetti warming on the fire. Best trail magic yet! This crew hiked up with packs loaded with all this food to feed us hungry hikers for the weekend! They also had post cards for us to write on that they would mail. He has been doing this for the past 6 years.

you have entered into awesome trail magic

We hiked another 1.5 miles,  and 900 vertical feet, fueled on spaghetti. Set up in a lovely little spot by one of the many streams and ate our trail dinner (yes, we’re that hungry!).

This set us up to take the 8 mile spur trail over another pass (Kearsarge, named after a mountain in New Hampshire, this one only 11,700 feet) and down into the town of Independence, where we then got a ride into the bigger town of Bishop to resupply, get clean, and recharge.

just the view on our morning stroll, happy little trees

 

headed up Kearsarge Pass

 

view of the other side, atop Kearsarge Pass

For those of you interested, I’ll post our daily mileages for these last two stretches. Tehachipi to Kennedy Meadows mileage was dictated by where we could find water, heat, and just generally wanting to get it over with, not without climbs, but flatter. Kennedy Meadows to Independence mileage depended on acclimating to high altitudes, steap rugged terrain, and setting up to climb Whitney and passes at the right time of day. Then getting out of and into towns are generally shorter days.

Tehachipi to Kennedy Meadows

Day 1: 20.8 miles

Day 2: 21 miles

Day 3: 15, hottest day, 5 hour siesta

Day 4: 27

Day 5: 19

Day 6: 22.5

Day 7: 10

Kennedy Meadows to Independence 

Day 1: 13 miles

Day 2: 19

Day 3: 20.5

Day 4: 15

Day 5: 16, including some of Mt Whitney

Day 6: 14, Forester Pass

Day 7: 8

I’d love to do a Q&A post soon, so if you have any questions, ask away in the comments section and I’ll answer.

Headed back into the High Seirras tomorrow for another 10 days.

Happy and Hungry for more,

Comet

1,870 miles to go


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Confessions of a Thru Hiker: The Good, the Bad, and the Strange

First confession: this blog post is not going to be as eloquent as it is in my head while I’m composing it as I walk. In fact, none of them are.

Second: Thru hiking is a hundred times harder, grosser, stranger and more beautiful than I can express in this blog, but I will attempt to give you a few of the highlights of the last few weeks.

It’s been unseasonably cold and windy here in Southern California! We finally left the Best Western at Cajon Pass, but some of our days still looked like this:

Luckily, a lot of the snow had already melted. Other hikers were not as lucky.

when there was a break in the clouds, it was pretty beautiful

You know those mornings when you just don’t want to get up out of bed and go to work? Well, they happen on the trail too. This was one of those days:

not too grumpy to snap a photo though

 

Many mornings getting out of bed on the trail means  unzipping my damp sleeping bag to the chilly morning, putting on dirty, stinky clothes, hobbling out of my tent on sore feet and looking for a bush adequate enough to use the bathroom behind, which means digging a hole and packing out my TP.

And yet, there are many unexpectedly happy moments too, like finding Mt. Dew and pickles waiting for you before a big climb, left by a trail angel. Or after that big climb, coming down to bags of McDonalds that same trail angel happened to drop off at the right moment you were there. Or, even, scouring bear boxes for food day campers may have left behind, you score some skunky Mexican beer. It’s warm, but you chill it in a snow bank and drink it anyway to celebrate your one month trailiversary.

Then there are the sunsets after perfect days of hiking (except for that treacherous trail you had to take down to the spring after the long perfect day of hiking to filter your water when all you wanted to do was eat dinner and go to bed).    

Then there are places whose strangeness one cannot even attempt to explain without experiencing it. Hiker Town, an on-trail hiker hostel, is one of those places.  (No, we did not spend the night, stopping off for water, shower, and a ride to the store for a lunch was enough for us.) In fact, even after you have experienced it, it’s still hard to explain. We’ve spent the last few days swapping stories with other hikers trying to make sense of it.

Hiker Town

 

the welcoming committee of Hiker Town

 

Mojave sunset

 

After hiker town, you spend the next two days creeping out of the desert floor, following the LA Aquaduct and a dirt road. It’s nice and flat, but the road is hard on the feet, especially with a pack full of water, cause there’s nowhere to get any till you are out. And of course, the heat.

Then we entered the world’s largest (literally) wind farm.

only a small part of this giant wind farm and some hikers we’ve been leap frogging with

 

just a little branch on the trail

 

windmilly sunset, looking for a place to camp and not finding it

This was a hodgepodge of a post that I’m not sure coveyed everything I wanted it to. Bottom line is I finally feel like a thru hiker, for better or worse (usually better). We’ve been increasing our mileage, both to get ready for some tougher hiking coming up and to catch people we enjoyed hiking with, but fell behind because of our days recouping from shin splints and blisters. We caught up! In fact, some of them showed up yesterday behind us; the trail is weird like that. We met another hiker today we hadn’t seen in a while who was surprised to see us, because he heard a rumor we went back to Maine!

Our mileage for the last three days has been 23, 23.5, and then a whopping 27, when we got stuck on the wind farm. Last two days we spent hiking through twilight and set up the tent with a headlamp.

We’re taking a zero in Tehachapi now, with lots to do to get ready for the Sierras (including spending time in the hotel’s hot tub). Our next big stop will be Kennedy Meadows in a little under a week, the official end of the desert (thank you God!) and start of the High Sierras. No cell reception, let alone Internet, so it will be a while before you hear from us again, but we should have some great pictures of the mountains and more tales of adventure I’ll attempt to convey.

With love,

Comet/Catie

At PCT mile 566.5


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Back on the Trail, Hiking Above the Clouds + Shin Splints Update 

Quick post to let you know- they’re gone! So far anyway, we’ve been hiking 2 days, taking it slow, also mostly uphill (up to 8,200 ft), which is easier on them. But today’s downhill into town was pain free!

So here’s what I did: rested, iced, and stretched. I also had a great physical therapist appointment, big thanks to Mason at Pacific Pro PT in Irvine. I love physical therapists, they are the best.  I chose to go that route because I felt a doctor wasn’t going to tell me anything I didn’t know, and a PT will tell me the how and why, and then how to fix it.

This is what I learned: somehow I had lost a lot of range of motion in my ankle, which is where the soreness started. So the muscle on my shin was having to do the work that the ankle joint should have been doing, hence all the pain. He gave me some exercises to do, and so far so good!

Now for the pics. Glad we took a couple extra days to wait out the storm, snow in the mountains. Hiked in some snow on the ground today and I think we’ll find more tomorrow going up Mt. Baden Powell.

Scenes from Jason’s solo days:

 

Joshua trees

sunset

 

Scenes from Cajon Pass to Wrightwood, miles 342 to 369.5:

 

Twisting and turning with the trail, train, and rocks out of Cajon Pass

 

up above the clouds, San Andreas Fault is right below us

 

Angeles National Forest

 

that sky!

 

Mt. Baldy

 

last stop of the day: Racoon Saloon, Wrightwood