Going Wherever It Leads

A family adventure 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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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 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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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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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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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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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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Practice Eating

PCT training

attempting to make instant mashed potatoes a little healthier

This past week, in addition to our usual training at the gym and hiking, we added trying out the food we will be eating on the trail. For the last 5 days, we ate the foods we will be taking with us, and cooked it on our camp stove, even ate it out of our camp bowls with our sporks.

Now, we did not eat as much food as we will be eating on the trail. There is no way we can pack in that many calories with our normal daily activities, no matter how stressful my last week of work got. (Just kidding, it wasn’t that bad.) So, we were just trying out the types of foods, to see what we really liked, what got old fast, etc.

Here’s what I ate:

Breakfast: protein granola bars

Lunch: Cheezits, peanut butter, cheddar cheese

PCT training

our stove and cook pot

Dinner: instant mashed potatoes most nights, and one night instant mac and cheese, with the following mixed in for variety: turkey jerky, chia seeds, pea protein powder, green food powder (lots of wheatgrass, spirulina, and other veggies), freeze dried green beans

Snacks: freeze dried apples, snap pea crisps, peanut butter

Jason ate a variation of the same, only with beef jerky and bacon jerky (yes, that is a thing, very salty!).

 

Here’s what I learned:

PCT training

me eating lunch in my car at work, peanut butter on cheddar, yum!

  • I still could eat Cheezits every day of the week, but I don’t like them with peanut butter.
  • I don’t mind a spoonful of peanut butter for a mid-morning snack.
  • I quite enjoy using slices of cheese as “crackers” for the peanut butter for lunch (Instead of Cheezits, because those are just too delicious to eat with anything else. I may have a problem!)
  • I much preferred instant mashed potatoes to instant mac and cheese (this may surprise many).
  • Jerky isn’t so bad mixed in with stuff.
  • Freeze dried green beans are quite good and soften up in mashed potatoes.
  • We learned the best technique to stir water into instant mashed in a bowl that it just barely fits into (add a little powder, add a little water, repeat until full).
  • I did like the taste of the green food powders I was trying out. I’ll get a large bottle of it to divvy out in our food boxes to mail.

    PCT training

    mmm, dinner!

  • It takes about two days for my stomach to adjust to this new diet.
  • I’m gonna need a lot more snacks!

Another bit of training I’ve done that I haven’t yet mentioned is earning my orienteering badge –learning to use a compass, successfully read and better understand maps, and navigate a trail better. Jason is really an old pro at this, having earned his badge in boy scouts long ago, and can navigate quite well on and off trail in the world.

I, on the other hand, will admit, not so much. But I have successfully learned, I think, we’ll see; or hopefully, we’ll never have to see.

PCT training

still lots of snow on our last hike! Though it’s finally starting to melt.

So, we have just about everything sold, stored, or packed into our car now. Next week we’ll be hitting the road! We’re driving to Oregon to drop off our car and stuff.

Fun stops we’re looking forward to on our road trip include the Upper Penninsula of Michigan, Badlands of South Dakota, and Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. Stayed tuned!

Any recommendations of things to see and do, places to eat? We’ll be taking the northern route, a lot of I-90.

See you on the road!
~Catie

PCT training

Round Top, Belgrade Lakes, Maine. If you look closely, you can see the snow flurries.


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We’re Not Doing Anything Special

I want to get one thing straight – this is Catie’s blog.  The voice of this blog is hers, and anything I write is pretty extraneous.  You should view me as an interloper, sometimes imposing an irreverent and subversive voice on this otherwise serious and inspiring forum.  But, since Catie was foolish enough to give me a login, I guess I’ll abuse that privilege until she changes the password.  So I want to share a thought about this adventure.

As some of you may know, I hiked the Appalachian Trail when I was in college.  It was an experience, and if you buy me a few beers I can tell AT stories all night.  But along the way, one of my fellow thru-hikers wrote something important in a trailside journal.  The point he made was, this is not an accomplishment.  You’re not doing anything important by hiking this trail.

That sentiment was at odds with most of what I had been hearing, and thinking, up until then.  Most people are impressed when they hear that you’re walking over 2,000 miles, and it’s hard not to be impressed with yourself.  It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that a long hike like this is the fulfillment of something, and that it has some great significance.  And that’s not totally false – I’m not going to argue with anybody who finds some meaning in hiking one of the long trails.  But it’s not the whole story, and it’s equally true to say that we’re taking the summer off and going camping.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Doing things because they’re fun is… well, fun.  And we fully expect this to be fun.  Maybe we’ll feel different about life when we’re done, or gain some clarity.  Or maybe we won’t.  But it’s not important and it doesn’t make us special, and that’s worth remembering.  Thru-hikers tend to be an elitist lot, disdainful of the “section hikers” and “weekenders” who aren’t doing what we’re doing, full of our own inflated sense of self-worth.   But “everybody hikes their own hike,” as they say, and the fact that our hike is longer than most doesn’t make it any more important.

So, that’s my thought of the day.  We’re not changing the world here.  We’re not doing anything except going for a walk.  And that’s okay, because it’s our walk.  It’s the thing we’ve chosen to do with these next four or five months of our lives, because we think it will be fun.  That’s more than enough reason to do anything.  And to the family, friends, and trail angels who have and will support us on this hike with food, water, transportation, and a place to sleep, thank you.  Because we’re not doing anything special to earn that consideration  – we’re just taking the summer off and going camping.  May we someday have the chance to offer you our equally undeserved support in whatever you choose to do.

For reading this far, enjoy this picture of me from my A.T. thru-hike, courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Hiker Photo Archive.  This was taken on July 4, 1999, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia – two months before my 19th birthday.

5201_5300atc054

I am not wearing a pack in this picture

Here’s to doing unimportant things because they’re fun.


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PCT FAQ: You’re doing what on the what? Part 2

You’re doing what on the what? We are thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. And if you don’t know what that means, read Part 1 here. Now I’ll continue the FAQ.

PCT prep

walking down to get the mail, practicing with my poles and pack

What’s the highest point on the trail?

Forrester Pass, at 13,153 feet in the Sierra Nevada. We hope to take a side trail to ascend Mt. Whitney, at 14,494 feet elevation, which would make it the highest point of our journey. It is also the highest point in the contiguous United States.

What’s the lowest point on the trail?

Cascade Locks, at 140 feet above sea level, in the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

How much will your packs weigh?

The base weight (base weight is everything you are carrying with you, including the weight of your pack, and excluding food and water) of my pack will probably be around 12 pounds. Jason’s will probably be around 15 pounds, because he is carrying the tent, and our cooking stuff. That means the full weight of our packs when we are headed out of resupply points will be me: 35 pounds, Jason: pushing 40 pounds. The further we hike away from resupply points the more food and water we consume; thus, the lighter our packs become.

How many miles a day will you hike?

We need to average about 17 miles per day in order to make it to the end of the trail before the snow falls in Washington. This average includes any zero days we’ll take. A zero day means a rest day; zero miles completed.

At the beginning we’ll start out at about 10 miles a day, slowly building closer to 20. Mileage will also depend on the terrain we’ll be traveling on for the day. We’ll make more miles during flat stretches, less when we are climbing in elevation. Making it to resupply points during post office and store hours is also a factor in how many miles a day we travel, and if we need to do laundry in town, etc.

PCT prep

multi-tasking -training while getting housework done!

How are you training for your hike?

It is the dead of winter right now in Maine, so although we are getting out to do some hiking, weather and work schedule prevent us from doing a lot. It’s pretty tough to simulate hiking miles and miles day after day. They say, the real training begins on Day 1 of the hike. Not until hiking the actual trail, do you really start to get in long-distance hiker shape.

That being said, there are still some things you can do to prepare, which, I feel, are pretty important. I am doing a lot of strength training, focusing on my core and legs. For those of you that don’t know, I tore my ACL last January, and will be about 1 year 1 month post knee surgery when we start the trail. So, for me, building the strength, balance, and confidence back up in my right leg has been very important. Luckily, I am friends with an amazing personal trainer who set me up with an awesome training program I have been doing for the last 10 weeks, increasing in difficulty as I get stronger.

This is what my weekly exercise plan looks like. Actually, this would be an ideal week, which hardly ever happens.

  • Strength training at the gym or a less intense home program, focusing on core and lower body, with a little upper body thrown in for good measure (2-3 times a week).
  • Endurance, which, when the weather is good, includes a hike. When it’s not, I spend a long time at the gym doing a combination of slow jogging, swimming, and biking (once a week).
  • Cardio Intervals. I usually do this on my strength days at the gym, but sometimes just by itself. I will do a combination of running on the track and treadmill (soon, with the extra daylight and warmer temps, I can start running outside again!), or a swim (2-3 times a week).
  • Rest day, at least once a week, but often, for various reasons, it’s more than that.

What else? We also wear our weighted packs around the house, while doing cooking or cleaning (I actually sweep more now that I’m wearing my pack!), or on walks down to our mailbox. I also have a pretty consistent yoga practice, which includes meditation. Although, I have to admit, since I’m exercising a lot more, some days this takes a back seat.

What has Jason been doing to train? Well, since he’s less schedule-oriented than I am, his training is a little (a lot) less regemented. He wears a heavily-weighted pack while pacing around the house, doing walking lunges, and various other strength exercises, runs on the treadmill a little, and of course, accompanies me on our hikes.

We also spend a lot of evenings reading books and blogs and researching for the journey as well.

How excited are you to be doing this?

Beyond words!

Anything I forgot to cover? Ask away!

Chiao,

~Catie


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PCT FAQ: You’re doing what on the what? Part 1

Here’s a little more background on what the Pacific Crest Trail is and what we’ll be doing on it. I decided to write it in FAQ style, with questions I’ve been frequently asked; questions I frequently ask myself; and answers to some other interesting questions. Here ya go! (This got a little long, so I split it into two parts.)

Feel free to ask me more in the comments below and I will try to answer them in Part 2!

Note: I am, by far, not an expert on this subject. There are plenty of people who are, and you can find them through Google searches and some of the links provided below, like this one.

What is the Pacific Crest Trail?

The Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT for short, is a 2,650 mile trail that spans the states of California, Oregon and Washington. It starts at the Mexican border in Campo, CA and ends at the Canadian border in Washington. The trail usually runs along the ridgeline of the mountain ranges of the west coast. In California, it traverses the Laguna Mountains, San Jacinto Mountains, San Bernardino Range, San Gabriel Range, Sierra Nevada and other mountains, across the San Andreas Fault, through a stretch of the Mojave Desert, and parts of Yosemite National Park. Its Oregon section covers the Cascade Range, including Crater Lake, passing through lava fields, and near The Three Sisters Mountains and Mt. Hood. The trail crosses the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods going into Washington. In Washington, it climbs out of the Columbia River Gorge, continuing along the Cascades, with a close-up view of Mt. Rainer. The trail ends at the Canadian border, but has been extended for a seven mile stretch into Canada, requiring you to carry a passport to get back into the United States. This allows a quicker connection back to a road.

What is a thru hike?

A thru hike is a hike through an entire long distance trail, such as the PCT, Appalachian Trail, or Continental Divide Trail. It is completed in one entire season, rather than in sections at a time.

How long will it take you?

We are planning on the entire hike taking us between 4 ½ and 5 months. We will start our hike on April 19th and hope to finish sometime in September.

What will you do about food?

There are a few options for food. Typically, we will carry about 4-6 days worth of food in our packs between resupply points. A resupply point is a town, or sometimes only a small convenience store or post office that is off the trail. Resupply points are reached by walking or hitching a ride. Once we reach a resupply point, we will either stock up at a local store or pick up a package we have mailed ourselves ahead of time.

Not all towns along the trail have places to stock up on food, so often post offices and other places will hold packages for thru hikers. Some people put together all of their packages ahead of time and mail them out, or have someone else mail them as they go. We are choosing to resupply in town whenever we can, and do a few package drops that we mail ourselves along the way for more remote areas.

As for what we will eat, we have put together meal ideas that include highly calorie-dense foods that either do not require cooking, or are cooked quickly. Any “cooking” we do will be merely boiling water for instant foods on a little canister stove.

A sample menu for the day may look like this:

PCT blog

resting our packs during a lunch break on a recent training hike in snowy Maine

Breakfast: Protein bars or oatmeal

Lunch: Cheezits, peanut butter, cheese, pepperoni

Dinner: Instant mashed potatoes or instant mac and cheese with beef jerky, dried vegetables, and powdered milk mixed in

Snacks: bars, nuts, dried fruit, crackers

I also plan on carrying a good multi-vitamin, and spirulina powder and chia seeds to mix into things like oatmeal and instant potatoes for added nutrients.

And of course when we get into towns, we’ll pig out on whatever we want!

What will you do about water?

We are carrying a Sawyer Mini water filter to filter our water from streams, springs, etc. In the desert, we will often carry large amounts of water with us at a time, since water sources will be few and far between. We will also have iodine tablets as a back-up water treatment.

What about snakes, spiders, scorpions, bears, and crazy people?

These are all things one may encounter on the trail. Except for crazy people; that is a myth. As for the other creatures, they are typically not things you have to spend a lot of time worrying about. From my polling of many fellow hikers during my time in Arizona, I learned that rattle snakes never bite people unless you are drunk, or stupid; i.e. unless you provoke them. They do have a rattle that will warn you ahead of time, and you simply stay out of their way. They really want nothing to do with you.

The same goes for the other poisonous critters. You just watch out for them. Don’t put your hands in holes. Don’t put your feet in your shoes without checking.

Bears, again, typically want to leave you alone. You want to be cautious about protecting your food at night by hanging it or keeping it in a bear canister. In a portion of the trail through Yosemite, bear canisters are required.

PCT blog

trying out a tent at REI, not the one we got, a little too small, a little too expensive

Where will you sleep?

We have a light-weight tent Jason will be carrying and light-weight down sleeping bags. Mine is rated for 11 degrees, mainly because I get cold easily, but also at higher elevations like the Sierra, it could get below freezing at night.

On the trail, we will tent out at a combination of established camp sites, and wherever looks flat.

We’ll occasionally stay off the trail in places with actual beds, where we can also take showers, including hiker hostels, cheap motels, a couple splurgy hotels or resorts, and maybe with trail angels, and friends along the way.

What’s a trail angel?

A trail angel is someone who lives near the trail and helps out thru hikers, doing anything from giving them food, to a ride, to a place to stay, or maybe just words of encouragement.

Any other questions I should include in Part 2 next week? Jot them in the comments or shoot me an email.

Happy Trails,

Catie

Update (11/20/17): Wow, reading over that sample menu made me laugh! We ditched our stove and instant mashed potatoes (along with bear spray and other “essentials”) a couple weeks into the hike and never looked back! It made me realize how much you learn as you go on the trail. But reading good resources and thinking about pre-trip planning is helpful. Here’s another resource you might check out: Pacific Crest Trail 101, a good overview of the trail and things to think about as you start planning. But as always, you’ll have to hike your own hike.


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Saying Yes to the Trail

PCT blog

Poplar Stream Falls, summer

So how did we come upon this crazy idea of ours to thru hike the Pacific Crest Trail? When we finally realized it was crazy not to.

A little bit before Christmas, we headed out into the woods to get away from the world, as we often do. We were heading to the falls we got married at. We hadn’t done this trail since that day, when we hiked in as boyfriend and girlfriend, and out as husband and wife. On this winter day, we reminisced about the wedding, and talked of how much had changed in the surroundings. The trail and falls looked completely different, covered in snow and ice, than they did five short months ago on that sunny summer day. Everything was different.

PCT blog

Poplar Stream Falls, winter

We began to talk about what we wanted our life to look like, which often begins with wild and crazy ideas, then narrows to more realistic (and boring) ones. We’d been talking about moving, either back to Portland (Maine) or to the west coast. Jason joked that we should walk to wherever we move instead of drive, and we got caught up in this fantasy of walking across the country. This has been our go-to fantasy when our jobs are feeling really tough, and we want an escape. At some point on our way back on the groomed snow trail, I asked aloud, “Well, if this is something we really want to do, why can’t we do it?” (This may have been more of a revelation to me than Jason, who was quicker to jump on board.)

Back home, the fantasy got a little more concrete as we began throwing around ideas of walking for a cause, and researching others who have walked across the country. We discovered it would take a little longer than we maybe wanted to be walking, and the routes weren’t always that scenic.

Then we began to throw around the idea of hiking a long trail. Jason had already hiked the Appalachian Trail, so that was out. It would have to be something new to both of us that we could experience together. I had just read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild (Yes, there, I said it, this wonderful book was, in part, my inspiration), and threw out the idea of the Pacific Crest Trail. We also looked at other trails like the Continental Divide Trail (a little more than I was ready for), or the Pacific Northwest Trail (a little less than we were looking for).

From that night on, our fantasy revolved around the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT, for short). We didn’t commit to any more than just toying around with the idea, but the more we both thought and talked about it, the more excited we became. In an attempt to shake a real answer out of me, Jason began telling me tales of how hard thru hiking is, what it is really like. I think he did this because he really wanted me to say yes to this, but wanted to really make sure I meant it, and wanted it.

I wanted it. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And when I say sense, I mean I felt it. It felt so right. During all of the previous thinking and planning out our next steps, ideas of places to move, jobs to apply to, I was riddled with indecision and anxiety. But with this plan, there was none of that. It settled into my brain so snugly, and then stretched out and relaxed there, until we both finally admitted this is what we had to do. We would quit our jobs, spend the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, then stay out west at the end of it and see what will happen next.

I truly believe that one right decision leads to another. All my previous anxiety fell away, because those previous plans were not the right plans. I so strongly believe that if we continue saying yes to what our hearts want out of life, we’ll continue to be led to doors, and more doors we hadn’t even thought of will open up. So far, this has been true. Things are falling into place quite magically.

We also dropped the idea of doing this for some kind of cause –doing this because it is something we want to do in our life is the cause. This is another reason our plan feels so right. Jason and I are both coming to realize, for both separate and similar reasons, that neither of us are that suited for a “normal” life. (Let’s just admit it, neither one of us is that normal.) And I am finally completely ok with that.

This hike, then, is not an escape from “the real world.” This is the real world, lived out how we want to live it, not how convention dictates we should. We are both finally actively figuring out how we fit into the life that we make, rather than trying to fit into lives that society makes for us.

Since this decision, I have settled into feeling like myself in a way I haven’t felt for quite some time now. (It feels so good to be true to yourself.)

I’d like to leave you with one last thought –this lovely piece I came across while making the decision.

In the posts leading up to our hike, I will share what we’re doing to prepare for the hike; why packing and purging for a cross-country move is so liberating; and maybe even a sneak peak of what’s in my backpack (without getting gear-heady!); and what is the PCT anyway?

Stay tuned! Subscribe by email with the button at the bottom and never miss a post!

Here’s to saying yes!

~Catie

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