Going Wherever It Leads

An adventure and family hiking 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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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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