Going Wherever It Leads

An adventure and hiking blog


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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

 


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Decisions, Decisions

Shin splints: 1) a pain in the leg that is a real pain in the ass; 2) what Comet currently has.

So, a few days ago I learned what shin splints feel like. Correction: I learned what it feels like to hike all day with shin splints. But I’ll back up a little, since it’s been a while since I’ve given an update.

When I last left off, we were spending a zero day in the cute little mountain town of Idyllwild, CA. The next day, we hiked out of town on the Devil’s Slide Trail to meet back up with the PCT. But before that, we decided to take a little detour up to San Jacinto Peak. It only added an extra mile, and the view was definitely worth it! San Jacinto is Southern California’s 2nd tallest peak, which doesn’t sound that special, but at 10,834 feet, it is taller than anything back East and also the 2nd tallest peak we’d ever hiked (Mt. Fuji is the 1st). The elevation made for a slow climb that took us most of the day.

a little cabin near the top, built in the 30s

 

Not-a-Bear on top of the world

 After the peak, we ate dinner by a mountain stream, then pushed on a few more miles as the sun set. This was one of my most favorite moments of the hike so far. After spending all day on the crowded San Jacinto trail, all was quiet and serene back on the PCT. The breeze swirled high above us, but was silent in the trees we hiked through. We watched the sun set below the peaks to our left, and the moon rise above the peak to our right -just breathtaking. We found a campsite in a little clearing (we’re not sure what made the clearing), just as we turned our headlamps on. A pretty peaceful night, other than hearing a mysterious buzzing sound when we pressed our ears to the ground in our sleeping bags, like underground bees.

 

sunset coming down off San Jacinto

 

and on our other side, moonrise

 

Jason hidden in dusk

 

Luckily, we didn’t see any bees, and started the next day going down, down, down. Sixteen miles of down to be precise, coming off San Jacinto and back into the desert valley below. It was a hard day, but the gorgeous views made it a little easier. We also had a pleasant surprise waiting for us down below -fresh avocados and oranges left by a trail angel, under a shade tent he’d created, at our water resupply (a faucet coming from the town’s water district).

 

morning in the valley

 

San Jacinto & our water supply

   We had a couple nice days in the valley, one with trail angel’s Ziggy and the Bear -that offered showers, port-a-potties, food resupply, and pizza delivery – another following a stream, with actual water in it! We also got to camp at a campground with flush toilets, running water and soap, and an old trout pond they let you soak your feet in -heavenly!

We climbed slowly back out of the valley, and Days 18 and 19 were spent back in the beautiful pine forest and mountains, which I enjoy much more than the desert floor! These two days were gorgeous, and I was feeling great, starting to feel like an actual thru hiker even!

Day 18 was our second 20+mile day (21). It was one of my favorite hiking days, but also the day my shin really started hurting me. The rest of my body, however, has been quite happy, not as sore, not as tired, just a general hiker happiness setting in that I hadn’t had previously. But Day 19, only 10 miles into Big Bear Lake, although that hiker happiness continued, the shin splints worsened, and those last couple miles into town were the hardest I’ve done so far.

 

pleasant pops of color everywhere

 

San Gorgonio & a wildfire in the distance, watching planes dump water on it all day, contained to 10 acres

So, after a zero day, not much relief on my shin (just my right leg, which is also the leg I had my ACL surgery on last year, so it makes sense this weaker leg wasn’t in as good shape, and was perhaps compensating in places for other places). Then we took another zero day and realized we had a decision to make, and lots of questions -would I continue? could I continue? how long a rest does my leg need? does it even need a rest? would Jason rest with me or continue on?

These were tough questions for us with no right answers (my least favorite question!), but we finally came up with one that felt like the best choice. My shin needs more time to heal, so that it does not become a long-standing issue. We can’t stay in Big Bear Lake forever. I wanted Jason to continue on without me to maintain the timeline we are currently on. In the grand scheme of things, when I make it to Canada, I will still feel like I accomplished what I set out to, even if I have to miss these next 100 miles. (Although Jason says he is willing to come back at the end and hike them with me if I feel like I need to make it official). Then when I meet back up with him, we won’t feel the pressure of making big miles to play catch up. We also won’t be that far behind the hikers we’d started with and have come to know and enjoy the company of, which was also important to me.

So, I  took a bus, and then a train, back to Irvine, to where we started, at my brother and sister-in-laws, whom I’m so grateful to have, not just because they are graciously letting me crash in their apartment, but also for their support and great company.

Sometimes going wherever it leads is not always the place you wanted or thought you’d go, but it is still part of the journey. Having these last few days off the trail to indulge in showers, cupcakes, and trash TV has honestly made me miss it even more, and the time off has made me more determined than ever to get back out there and finish that trail!

 

my walk today by a man-made lake in Irvine, a little surreal

My leg is starting to feel better, and I have a physical therapy appointment in a couple days to get my alignment checked out to make sure I’m not walking in a way that will cause them to recur. And I also get to help my little brother celebrate his 31st birthday tomorrow!

still calorie-loading on my break :)

still calorie-loading on my break 🙂

Jason is also doing well on the trail by himself, making great miles. It’s hard to be apart, but the break will give us new things to talk about 🙂

Until next time,

Comet

 


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Our First 20+ Mile Day & Idling in Idyllwild: Days 11-13

This is going to be a quick post because the internet connection isn’t great and I want to go back to enjoying our zero day.

Since I last left off we have done another 50 miles, this time in two days. Needless to say we are enjoying our day off – napping, eating (fresh fruit, lots of juice and water and junk food), laundry, showers and resupplying.

Two days ago we did a 22 mile-day, which tested my body and mind in ways it had never been tested. Then the following day, in order to get to our next water resupply, which happened to also be a restaurant and our hitch into town, we pulled another 15 trail miles + 1 off-trail mile (which Jason says doesn’t count, but it does in my book!).

That was our roughest day. The heat (temp around 90), paired with already being tired from our long previous day made for a very challenging walk.

There is now a group of us hiking similar mileage that we have been camping with and leap-frogging on the trail. It makes things a lot easier to have the support and understanding of a group of people all in it together. In fact, everyone, hikers, trail angels and strangers in town have been so friendly and supportive.

Today is very nice. Idyllwild is a cute little tourist town tucked into the San Jacinto Mountains. We are enjoying recuperating here. Tomorrow back to the adventure!

We love reading your comments on the blog, thanks for all your support. Just remember, if you comment on Facebook I can’t see it.

Personal messages:

Kate: you asked if I would still pick up trash in the trail, the answer is yes, only if my pack’s not too heavy to bend over and it’s very small. Although the other day I packed out a Mylar balloon decorated with Disney characters, yet another way Disney princesses are destroying the world.

Mom, I’m seeing lots of feathers along the trail, especially when it gets tough.

Over and out,

Comet

prairie before Warner Springs

the magic if Mike’s Place. what a surprise to get free burgers and potato salad in the middle of the desert! another awesome trail angel

 

us after our 22 mile day, sunset, happy and hungry

San Jacintos

 


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Desert Rain, Dessert for Breakfast, and Mile 100!: Days 6-10

Yes, the rumors were true – there is free pie in Julian! We had been hearing about it for the last few days. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but there it was waiting for us at Mom’s Pie House, with ice cream and hot tea!


This made an excellent start to our breakfast. Then we headed across the street to Julian Cafe for the prime rib and eggs special.

 

and I almost finished it!

I think my hiker hunger is beginning to kick in! I started dreaming about hiking and also about meat. Now some of that is probably because we’ve been too cold and rainy the last two nights to cook a proper meal and had peanut butter in tortillas for dinner.

So, apparently every once in a while it rains in the desert, and we happened to catch both days of it this year. it was quite cold, windy, and wet days 6 and 7, but also quite beautiful.

 

pine cones keep getting bigger

 

keeping warm in my favorite piece of gear, my buff

 

misty morning, day 6

rainbow in the desert!

 

weather finally broke, sunrise day 8

The next two days the heat picked up a bit. More desert hiking, a slow day coming out of Julian. My blisters healed but my body is still adjusting to all this walking. We camped at a nice little campground in the valley, shade, trees, and water.

This morning was a pretty little hike alternating through prairie and trees into the small town of Warner Springs. The community center is set up to help hikers out. $6 for shower with shampoo and towels! $8 and they’ll do your laundry. Yes, please. Free cookies; and hikers working on repacking packs with food from their mail drops, most of us packed too much food, mingling with local artists workings on watercolors. Very relaxing afternoon.

So we are just hanging out, waiting for our laundry a we’ll probably get a few more miles in tonight if the laundry is done soon.

Finished with Sections A. Currently at mile 109.

Namaste,

Comet (Catie)


  


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Bonus Post, Day 5: Blooms, Bears, & Zeroes 

A zero is a day that you don’t put any miles in, a day off. Today we took a zero day, or I should say my feet did.

After settling in at the Mt. Laguna Lodge, getting cleaned up and rested, I realized just how bad my feet had gotten. We got some good advice at the outfitter on how to treat them and that a day of rest was a really good idea for them. It was frustrating since the rest of my body is feeling really good, but I know now it was a good call.

I have to give another huge shoutout to Laguna Mountain Sports & Supply, this time to Mary, who fitted me with proper fitting shoes and comfy socks and gave great advice on continuing the hike with blister management.

Kind of a classic newbie mistake, a combination of too-small shoes, bad socks, and not paying close enough attention to my feet’s needs. But feeling better already and will be trail-ready tomorrow.

out with the old, in with the new. traded up from a size 7 to an 8, where i should have been all along

Bear or Not a Bear?

So yesterday Jason got a trail name too. This blog is officially becoming TMI (too much information), and will probably remain that way, since the topics of thought and conversation are quite different out here. You know the saying, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” Well, Jason has managed to pull off not doing this so far, having good timing with campgrounds and other real toilets. Hence, he is not a bear.

 

Not-a-Bear enjoying some trail magic

 

Desert Blooms

And I will leave you with some more pictures. Don’t worry, no gory pics of the feet, just some of the many wildflowers we are finding along the trail.

The blossoms are my many little lovely surprises along the way that keep me going. That and the two main songs I have in my head to keep a good hiking rhythm, “Stayin’ Alive” and “I Will Survive ” (a mix of Diana Ross’s and Cake’s versions).

If anyone knows thenames of any of the flowers, tell us in the comments.

Restfully Yours,

Comet and Not-a-Bear

 

yucca

 

yucca up close

look like mini poppies

 

yellow mini poppies?

   

not actually a flower, but reminiscient of one, a cut yucca plant

 

at 6,000 feet , surprised by some lupines, feels like home

 


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Rainbows, Champagne Bubbles, and Comets: Prehike + days 1-4

Hello from the trail!

Where to begin? 4 days and 40 miles in and it’s already been harder, easier, and more wonderful than I imagined!

Prehike Wrap Up

Entering Oregon through the Columbia River Gorge we were greeted by rainbows and sunshine, a good omen as we stopped at Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks to check out the PCT for the first time. We then spent a few lovely days unloading our car and visiting friends and family.

Friday we flew into Orange County to visit my brother and sister-in-law. They gave us a wonderful send off- a sunset dinner by the ocean and a champagne toast.

Terry dropped us off at the trailhead around 9 am on Sunday and we hit the trail, after we waited our turn for a photo at the monument.

Day 1

It was a hot one! With a late start we were hiking in the heat of the day. I got a little dehydrated and my Irish body learned some valuable lessons about being in the sun all day.

And I got my trail name: Comet, because I puked my lunch up like I was riding a vomit comet at the county fair. I like the name; it’s unique and humbling. But I’m no stranger to the puke and rally, way back to high school track days.

A tough first day, but we managed 10.6 miles and found a nice spot to pitch a tent barely off the trail.

Day 2:

Another day in the desert and a 7 am start found us at Lake Morena, after 8.8 miles. We covered that by midday and I enjoyed a nap under a tree and rested my newly blistered feet. I have blisters in places I didn’t even know you could get blisters, but it’s all part of the process of toughening up my feet.

Day 3

Our big miles day! Up at 5, hit the trail by 6 and covered 10 miles by noon, enjoyed a cooler morning under a little cloud cover. Pulled in 7.5 more miles after a water refill stop, totaling 17.5 for the day! Camped by a small creek at 6,000 feet elevation for a chilly night but cozy in our down sleeping bags.

Day 4

Only 4 miles to a nice breakfast at Mt. Laguna Tavern and a feet -resting day, laundry in the tub, and showers at Mt. Laguna Lodge.

That’s about all I’ve got energy to write for now. Meeting lots of really nice people along the way and a big shoutout to Mt. Laguna Outfitters for providing lots of great tips for our packs, and new pants for me, since I’d already split a hole in the old ones I brought with me.

And now what you’ve all been waiting for, pictures!

Over and out,

Comet

 

champagne toast with our new friends

 

Dusty enjoying our lunchtime view, will regret this lunch an hour later

 

desert sunrise day 2

 

bird greeting the day with us

 

day 3, yes sometimes it’s cloudy in the desert

This.

 

and this. Jason had heard a military plane once crashed in the area and they couldnt be sure they cleaned it all up

 

day 4, pine trees at elevation

 

yay! said my feet