Going Wherever It Leads

A family adventure blog


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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

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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


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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

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.

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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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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


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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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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.


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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

 


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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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Bonus Post: “500 Miles” PCT Remix by Not-a-Bear

So I think I mentioned before, Jason spent a good 200 miles coming up with new lyrics to the song “I’m Gonna Be,” (aka “500 Miles”) by the Proclaimers. We wrote out the whole thing in the PCT log book at Kennedy Meadows (I transcribed since Jason has horrible handwriting). Enjoy. You have to have the tune in your head when you read it. Hopefully you can see it all in the photos.

    


And here’s a picture of Not-a-Bear inspecting a red flower with his new red shoes. I got my new shoes today -happy days!  And my new Super Feet insoles I got last week from The Animal (who blogs at Finding My Berrings) have my feet feeling much better. Who knows what that red flower is? Or even if it is a flower?  Signing off with happy feet,

Comet & Not-a-Bear

 


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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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Confessions of a Thru Hiker: The Good, the Bad, and the Strange

First confession: this blog post is not going to be as eloquent as it is in my head while I’m composing it as I walk. In fact, none of them are.

Second: Thru hiking is a hundred times harder, grosser, stranger and more beautiful than I can express in this blog, but I will attempt to give you a few of the highlights of the last few weeks.

It’s been unseasonably cold and windy here in Southern California! We finally left the Best Western at Cajon Pass, but some of our days still looked like this:

Luckily, a lot of the snow had already melted. Other hikers were not as lucky.

when there was a break in the clouds, it was pretty beautiful

You know those mornings when you just don’t want to get up out of bed and go to work? Well, they happen on the trail too. This was one of those days:

not too grumpy to snap a photo though

 

Many mornings getting out of bed on the trail means  unzipping my damp sleeping bag to the chilly morning, putting on dirty, stinky clothes, hobbling out of my tent on sore feet and looking for a bush adequate enough to use the bathroom behind, which means digging a hole and packing out my TP.

And yet, there are many unexpectedly happy moments too, like finding Mt. Dew and pickles waiting for you before a big climb, left by a trail angel. Or after that big climb, coming down to bags of McDonalds that same trail angel happened to drop off at the right moment you were there. Or, even, scouring bear boxes for food day campers may have left behind, you score some skunky Mexican beer. It’s warm, but you chill it in a snow bank and drink it anyway to celebrate your one month trailiversary.

Then there are the sunsets after perfect days of hiking (except for that treacherous trail you had to take down to the spring after the long perfect day of hiking to filter your water when all you wanted to do was eat dinner and go to bed).    

Then there are places whose strangeness one cannot even attempt to explain without experiencing it. Hiker Town, an on-trail hiker hostel, is one of those places.  (No, we did not spend the night, stopping off for water, shower, and a ride to the store for a lunch was enough for us.) In fact, even after you have experienced it, it’s still hard to explain. We’ve spent the last few days swapping stories with other hikers trying to make sense of it.

Hiker Town

 

the welcoming committee of Hiker Town

 

Mojave sunset

 

After hiker town, you spend the next two days creeping out of the desert floor, following the LA Aquaduct and a dirt road. It’s nice and flat, but the road is hard on the feet, especially with a pack full of water, cause there’s nowhere to get any till you are out. And of course, the heat.

Then we entered the world’s largest (literally) wind farm.

only a small part of this giant wind farm and some hikers we’ve been leap frogging with

 

just a little branch on the trail

 

windmilly sunset, looking for a place to camp and not finding it

This was a hodgepodge of a post that I’m not sure coveyed everything I wanted it to. Bottom line is I finally feel like a thru hiker, for better or worse (usually better). We’ve been increasing our mileage, both to get ready for some tougher hiking coming up and to catch people we enjoyed hiking with, but fell behind because of our days recouping from shin splints and blisters. We caught up! In fact, some of them showed up yesterday behind us; the trail is weird like that. We met another hiker today we hadn’t seen in a while who was surprised to see us, because he heard a rumor we went back to Maine!

Our mileage for the last three days has been 23, 23.5, and then a whopping 27, when we got stuck on the wind farm. Last two days we spent hiking through twilight and set up the tent with a headlamp.

We’re taking a zero in Tehachapi now, with lots to do to get ready for the Sierras (including spending time in the hotel’s hot tub). Our next big stop will be Kennedy Meadows in a little under a week, the official end of the desert (thank you God!) and start of the High Sierras. No cell reception, let alone Internet, so it will be a while before you hear from us again, but we should have some great pictures of the mountains and more tales of adventure I’ll attempt to convey.

With love,

Comet/Catie

At PCT mile 566.5


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Back on the Trail, Hiking Above the Clouds + Shin Splints Update 

Quick post to let you know- they’re gone! So far anyway, we’ve been hiking 2 days, taking it slow, also mostly uphill (up to 8,200 ft), which is easier on them. But today’s downhill into town was pain free!

So here’s what I did: rested, iced, and stretched. I also had a great physical therapist appointment, big thanks to Mason at Pacific Pro PT in Irvine. I love physical therapists, they are the best.  I chose to go that route because I felt a doctor wasn’t going to tell me anything I didn’t know, and a PT will tell me the how and why, and then how to fix it.

This is what I learned: somehow I had lost a lot of range of motion in my ankle, which is where the soreness started. So the muscle on my shin was having to do the work that the ankle joint should have been doing, hence all the pain. He gave me some exercises to do, and so far so good!

Now for the pics. Glad we took a couple extra days to wait out the storm, snow in the mountains. Hiked in some snow on the ground today and I think we’ll find more tomorrow going up Mt. Baden Powell.

Scenes from Jason’s solo days:

 

Joshua trees

sunset

 

Scenes from Cajon Pass to Wrightwood, miles 342 to 369.5:

 

Twisting and turning with the trail, train, and rocks out of Cajon Pass

 

up above the clouds, San Andreas Fault is right below us

 

Angeles National Forest

 

that sky!

 

Mt. Baldy

 

last stop of the day: Racoon Saloon, Wrightwood

 


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Decisions, Decisions

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

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

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

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

 

Not-a-Bear on top of the world

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

 

sunset coming down off San Jacinto

 

and on our other side, moonrise

 

Jason hidden in dusk

 

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

 

morning in the valley

 

San Jacinto & our water supply

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

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

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

 

pleasant pops of color everywhere

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

still calorie-loading on my break :)

still calorie-loading on my break 🙂

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

Until next time,

Comet

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal messages:

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

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

Over and out,

Comet

prairie before Warner Springs

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

 

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

San Jacintos

 


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

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


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

 

and I almost finished it!

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

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

 

pine cones keep getting bigger

 

keeping warm in my favorite piece of gear, my buff

 

misty morning, day 6

rainbow in the desert!

 

weather finally broke, sunrise day 8

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

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

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

Finished with Sections A. Currently at mile 109.

Namaste,

Comet (Catie)


  


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear or Not a Bear?

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

 

Not-a-Bear enjoying some trail magic

 

Desert Blooms

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

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

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

Restfully Yours,

Comet and Not-a-Bear

 

yucca

 

yucca up close

look like mini poppies

 

yellow mini poppies?

   

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

 

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

 


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

Hello from the trail!

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

Prehike Wrap Up

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

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

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

Day 1

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

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

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

Day 2:

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

Day 3

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

Day 4

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

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

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

Over and out,

Comet

 

champagne toast with our new friends

 

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

 

desert sunrise day 2

 

bird greeting the day with us

 

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

This.

 

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

 

day 4, pine trees at elevation

 

yay! said my feet

 


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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.