Going Wherever It Leads

An adventure and hiking blog


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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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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