Going Wherever It Leads

An adventure and hiking blog


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Wildfires, Big Feet & OREGON!!!

So, if you’ve seen Instagram you know that we finally crossed the border into Oregon! We learned the hard and very long way that California is a very big state!

But before we get to Oregon, here’s a little more of Northern California. I last left you in the small town of Etna. From there, we hiked through the smoky haze of wildfires. We stopped to resupply in the very little town of Seiad Valley (in the lovely wanna-be state of Jefferson). It was a long hike into town (27 mile day) ending in a 7 mile road walk that is part of the actual trail.

It was such a long day because we didn’t make our planned mileage the day before. It was a very hot day and I started it out feeling sick. After a long morning rest, we only made 15 of the 20 planned miles. So by the time we got into Seiad we were pretty exhausted, but we managed to get some food for the next leg of the trip before the little general store closed, and shower and set up our tent in the local RV park beside it. It actually was kind of a fun day. Cooler than the day before, we had a couple nice opportunities to get wet in stream crossings, and an afternoon thunderstorm was just long enough to cool us off without leaving us soaked for the rest of the day.

hot and sick feeling this day, but some views are just too gorgeous to ignore

 

Grider Stream, a bridge burned in last year’s fire is of no use to us now, but it’s so hot we welcome the chance to take our shoes off and ford

 

this is not a sunset, but the wildfire haze makes it look like one

 

 

eerily beautiful sky reflected in the Klamath River, hiking the road into Seiad Valley

 

this also happened on that road, only 999 miles to Canada!

We were a little nervous about all of the smoke we were seeing (and inhaling), especially while passing through many miles of last year’s devastating fire. But we learned when we got to town that the smoke was coming from fires hundreds of miles away. This same smoke would follow us up into Oregon and mix with the smoke of its wildfires as well, still very far from the trail. Not too fun to hike in. You know those days when the weather forecasters warn to stay indoors and limit outdoor activities? A little hard to follow when your job is to hike all day.

yay Oregon!

 

more eerie wildfire sky


The smoke was just one of the factors that made me take my Oregon break a little early. The other was my feet and their amazing ability to outgrow my shoes. I finally realized in Etna that my feet have actually grown and this is the probable cause of most of my current foot pain. This was confirmed while trying on shoes here in Eugene. I am now an 8.5. This is common on the trail and I’ve read that some hikers’ feet never go back to their old size. (I wonder if there will be more shoe shopping in my post-trail future?)


After Seiad, and a very long climb out of town (about a 5000 foot elevation gain over 9 miles), it was only another few days to Ashland, a very cool town I’d always wanted to visit. We walked into Callahan’s Lodge to get our free hiker beers, then found a room in town.

 We returned to the lodge the next afternoon to fully make use of our zero day in one of their very nice rooms (hiker rate), including a jacuzzi tub. Shouldn’t zero without one!

The next day, we parted ways: Jason continuing the path to Canada and I being picked up by my ever-so-kind Oregon family, where I’m spending the week, with my car and all my stuff in storage there, as this is where we’ll be when we finish the trail. It’s a weird feeling to be parted with your “stuff” for so long, and then be reunited. More on that later I’m sure.

I spent the last few days shoe shopping, sleeping, and lying in bed reading frivolous novels on my kindle unlimited, zombie-like. After 5 days I finally feel human again, and, are you ready for this? ready to hit the trail!

Yesterday I visited Jason at Crater Lake National Park, about two hours from Oakridge (the town I’m staying in).  Seeing the other hikers and the beauty there made me miss it. I am developing quite the love-hate relationship for this trail.

us at Crater Lake, Wizard Island just behind us

 

Crater Lake

He’s been hiking the good hike, but he is getting tired too. I admire his determination not to quit, even if I don’t share it.

Not-a-Bear passed this a few days ago

 

In a few days I’ll pick him up at the trailhead at Willamette Pass, just a 40-minutes drive from Oakridge. He’ll take the next day off, then we’ll both head back out on the trail. We’ll have only about a week and a half left of Oregon, then it’s Hello Washington!

 

expressing my Oregon love at the border

Well rested and read,

Comet/Catie


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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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Volcanoes, Big Water Carries, and Town Food

There is such a stark contrast between our times in towns and our times on the trail. We go from one extreme to the other: from getting up early, spending all day on our feet, out in the open air, eating food out of ziplock bags to sleeping in, lying around in an air conditioned motel room on a soft bed, walking as little as possible, and eating as much as possible. Essentially, from extremely active to extremely lazy. And I love it! I love being able to order a big meal at a restaurant and finishing the entire thing (although Jason says he now has to rethink his ordering strategy to no longer include eating what’s left of my plate!). I love getting a little pang of afternoon hunger and filling it with whatever it is I’m craving – today a McFlurry.

 

ate all but 2 bites

We are zeroing today at the Charm Motel (hiker discount) in Burney, California, a little town big into fishing, and not much else. We hadn’t planned to zero or even come into this town, but here we are and happy we did.

Edit

Burney, CA

We just completed a tough stretch of trail. Hat Creek Rim, although one of the flattest sections, is also one of the hottest and driest. It is a 29.4 mile hike on top of the rim with no water and little shade, felt a bit like being back in the dreaded desert. A lot of it was through an old burn section, so at one point in time, it had been shadier.

Our plan was to do it all in one day, but after a 27 mile day before, my feet were aching and the heat was getting to us, so we put in 25 and called it good. We did carry enough water with us to be able to camp and have a little for the 4 mile hike to the creek the next morning. It was nice to be able to see Mt. Shasta for the first time, and the view of the valley below was nice.

 

first view of Mt Shasta, through a burn area

 

Mt Shasta

So the next morning, we decided that rather than stopping at Burney Falls State Park, where we’d planned on a quick resupply, meal, and shower, we’d earned ourselves a bed in town, especially since the last town we were in didn’t have any beds for us. This time we called and booked ahead before hitching in.

We had the nice big lunch special at the Chinese restaurant, where we learned, with the free wifi there, that the new shirt I ordered online and was having shipped to the state park wasn’t going to be there until Monday. Oh well, another day in town.

This last stretch also included Lassen Volcanic National Park, which was very cool. It is also very cool that as PCT hikers we get to pass through a lot of national and state parks for free, seeing parts of them that many tourists never get to experience, as well as some other perks I’ll get into in a bit.

Lassen is still an active geothermal area.  Its last eruption was in 1921. We did a side trail to Terminal Geysere, which is actually a big steam vent.

 

Terminal Geysere, Lassen

We walked past sulphur-smelling Boiling Springs Lake, literally boiling, with an average temperature of 125 degrees, and it’s bubbling mud pots.

Boiling Springs Lake

 

bubbling mudpots

 

Lassen Park

Then we got to Drakesbad Guest Ranch, one of the best perks on the trail, in my opinion. Another hiker we’d been leap-frogging dubbed it the best shower on the trail. I would concur. Plus, it was free! They also allow hikers to swim in their hot spring-fed pool (during the guest dinner hour). It felt so good to take a refreshing shower then emerse in the warm pool for a quick soak. Then, we got an all-you-can-eat buffet BBQ dinner for $14! And this was real food, not the diner food we’d been getting off trail. Real fresh salad, super sweet corn on the cob, baked potato drenched in butter and sour cream, and a variety of grilled meats– the perfect summer meal.

We’ve got a few more town stops in California, with Oregon on our mind!

Happily well-fed,

Comet/Catie

P.S. Next mail stop will be in Ashland, Oregon. Check the “where we’ll be” page for date and address.

yes, he ate all his

 


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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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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