Going Wherever It Leads

A family adventure blog


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PCT Revisited: Providing Some Magic to Hungry Hikers in Oregon

Charlton Lake, Oregon

Charlton Lake, Oregon, first thing in the morning, before a beautiful trail run, then quick swim –ah, camping life

This past weekend Not-a-Bear and I donned our trail names once again and headed to the PCT –this time as trail angels, and weekend car campers, at Charlton Lake in the Willamette National Forest, near Bend, Oregon. The lake and campsites that surround it are on a lovely stretch of trail surrounded by tall pines and dotted with crystal clear lakes. We passed through the area last year at this time (about a week later), and figured there would probably be a good-sized pack of this year’s PCT thru hikers to feed.

We were right! We lost count, but we probably saw around 40 hikers in the two days were we there. We grilled up 60 hamburgers, 32 hot dogs, and 2 veggie burgers, and doled out 48 cans of soda (grape, strawberry, and cream soda were the hits, and favorites of mine on the trail), 72 beers, 2 bags of applies, 4 giant bags of potato chips, sour patch kids, a bag of baby carrots, and lots of baked goods –basically everything we craved as hikers. We didn’t bring any food back with us and ran out earlier than we’d expected.

We had a blast! For those of you unfamiliar with trail magic, it is when strangers give unexpected food to hikers. This could be in the form of a cooler by a trail head filled with cold soda, or cooking up an actual

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fun time feeding new friends

meal. It is something you don’t expect on the trail, but is always appreciated, and often the pick-me-up you need at just the right time. Our highest compliments of the weekend were from hikers who told us they were having a really bad day until they saw our signs on the trail for burgers and beers, and then things picked up. I remember feeling the same.

finally got to break out the hammock we got as a wedding gift, thought I'd have more time to relax in it, but we were quite busy with our guests!

finally got to break out the hammock we got as a wedding gift, thought I’d have more time to relax in it, but we were quite busy with our guests!

We really enjoyed chatting with this year’s hikers and learning about how different the trail is compared to last year. For one thing, they got a lot of snow in the Sierras and had some miserable sounding stories involving miles of snowfields, ice axes, and micro-spikes. I am glad that wasn’t us last year! 2015 was an exceptionally low snow year, followed by a pretty high one this year. This led to more water in sections that were very dry for us, but also an increase in mosquitoes. We had a small smokey campfire burning all weekend to keep them down, but when you left that circle you certainly felt them, and many hikers came in with bug netting covering their faces. The bugs were long gone last year at this time.

For us it was nostalgic to be hanging with hikers again (I didn’t even mind the smell!), and fun to live vicariously for the weekend. For me especially it was really nice to feel like I fit in, something I struggled with most of my own hike last year. I finally felt like I earned my trail cred. It felt good to be able to give advice to this year’s hikers, share our stories, and listen to theirs.

Deschutes River, near Bend

Deschutes River, near Bend

It was a great group of hikers, and just a perfect weekend, topped by heading into Bend on Sunday for the night. Since we ran out of food on Saturday, we left a little earlier than planned and had time to check out some of the sights around Newberry National Volcanic Monument, like Lava River Cave, a cave created by a hollowed out lava tube, and some rapids on the Deschutes River. Then we spent the afternoon and evening exploring McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School, a Catholic School beautifully and creatively restored to a hotel, complete with a soaking pool, several bars and restaurants, and even hidden rooms filled with very cool art work.

one of many really cool pieces of art at Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend

one of many really cool pieces of art at Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend

Now we are home, back to the real world, but it was a great mini-vacation.

Over-and-out,

Comet

P.S. If you’d like to see some of the things I’ve been up to check out The Passion Project, especially the profile of potter, Amy Hepner, a thru-hiker we met on-trail last year. Subscribe to read about another creative thru hiker I met in the next installment.

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sunset, Charlton Lake

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moon’s reflection

 

 


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Post Trail 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

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one of the hundred+ wineries in Walla Walla

So, that’s what we’ve been up to for the past few months. And now, I’ll tell another version of it, for me, anyway. Because Jason’s experience of the trail, on and off, has always been quite different than mine.

Like I said early, when I first got off the trail, I didn’t think much about it at all. It was so far removed from the reality of day-to-day life that it felt like a dream that I only remembered pieces of here and there. But as time went on, I began remembering more and more pieces, and found myself thinking about the trail more and more, even thinking of it fondly. Memory is funny like that; it somehow eases the bad and amplifies the good.

Now I didn’t miss everything about it, for sure. There was one morning recently that I was complaining of being tired and didn’t want to get up. Jason jokingly said, as he’d often say to me in earnest in the tent on a morning like that, “Come on Comet, we only have 20 miles to walk today.” And the relief I felt for that not being the case reminded me, also, how freeing it was for me not to be on the trail, not to have to hike everyday, whether I was tired or not (and every day you are).

It’s hard to put into words the change. But it’s there. It’s the little things that are probably easiest to explain. I don’t shower everyday any more, since I realized my skin and hair actually appreciate this. I look at food differently. I now believe antiperspirant is a placebo. The little concrete changes like that, I can explain. But some of it I just cannot. At least not now.

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Palouse Falls, WA, on my 35th birthday, still rockin’ the puffy

In the last two weeks of the trail, I had convinced myself I finally knew why I’d done this god-awful thing, something that was bugging me from early on. I’d finally decided I did it because I was too afraid to do the thing I really wanted to do –quit my job, move out west, and pursue creativity. I needed a something in between. The trail gave me that. It gave me courage to face this next step, I thought. And in some ways, I was right. I am braver now. It is easier to face challenging tasks in the real world, because most of them aren’t as challenging as hiking 20+ miles on not enough sleep or calories, in elevation, or heat, or cold.

But, in another way I was wrong about why I hiked, and I didn’t realize this till just the other day. I did it just to do it. And that is enough. That’s the answer most people will give you. Most people will give this answer to you before, during, and after their hike. But it took me a little longer to figure it out for myself (for various struggles within my personality or astrology). But you do it just to do it, for the experience of the thing.

One of the things Jason would say to me on trail, to help keep me going, when I really wanted to quit, was that later, I would be glad I did it, or regret not doing it if I didn’t. This was something he couldn’t explain, but he just knew was true. It wasn’t great motivation at the time, but somehow it kept me going. And he’s completely right. I’m so glad I didn’t quit. I’m so glad I made it to Canada.

I don’t regret any mile I walked. I also don’t regret any mile of trail I didn’t walk. My little breaks for various reasons added up to missing about 500 miles of the 2,659-mile trail. But those missed miles allowed me to complete the trail, complete it my way. As Pink Floyd said in a song I heard for the first time on the trail, and was a great inspiration to me, “I’ll climb that hill in my own way.” I always seem to do just that.

Listen to the song here.

And on this next hill, I am still afraid, it is still scary, but I will climb it in my own way.

 

Still going wherever it leads,

Comet/Catie

P.S. If you completed the trail, did you experience similar post-trail feelings? Different? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section.


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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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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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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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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

 


5 Comments

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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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


15 Comments

Saying Yes to the Trail

PCT blog

Poplar Stream Falls, summer

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

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

PCT blog

Poplar Stream Falls, winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to saying yes!

~Catie

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