Going Wherever It Leads

An adventure and hiking blog


Leave a comment

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

Hello adventurers,

passion project

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

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

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

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

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

The Passion Project

passion project

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

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

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

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

That was what excited his spirit.

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

That’s what excited his spirit.

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

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

 

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

passion project

among the winter wheat in Walla Walla

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

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

 

Onward,

Comet/Catie

Advertisements


7 Comments

Post-trail Musings

IHIX0835

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.

IMG_3672

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.

FullSizeRender

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

wine

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.

IMG_3902

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.


3 Comments

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

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

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

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

our loot , at the dock on Lake Chelan

We also won the prize for the only re

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

 

Rats!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

trail or obstacle course?

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

  

made me want to paint this scene

 

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

 

Glacier Peak Wilderness

 

winter and fall in same shot

 

just a gorgeous day in the Cascades

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onward to the border!

Comet/Catie


4 Comments

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!


Leave a comment

How Hikers Curb Boredom on Our Way to Oregon

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there is Toto Toyota the PCT hubcap.


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

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

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

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

 

Mt Shasta

a closer Mt Shasta

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

 

 

sunset camped on a ridgeline

 

shortly after sunrise same spot

 

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

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

See you in Oregon,

Comet/Catie

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


8 Comments

Quick Update & Funny Story

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

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

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

Highlights: 

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

 

lupines

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

midpoint

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End,

Comet

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

Mt. Lassen

 


6 Comments

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