Hello, lovely friends. I am currently poised to wade through approximately 900 photos and countless memories of California's mountains and deserts. This should have been accomplished much sooner, but post-hike depression sunk in, as did the time-consuming reality of working two jobs. Gallivanting about Seattle had helped stave it off, as did moving north-ward on the East Coast and the subsequent job-hunting... but once I actually began working, boy did the proverbial shit ever hit the fan.
I now understand why people do multiple long distance trails.
The whole time I was on the PCT I swore this would be my last big hike. I changed my tune a little in Washington state... with the end in sight, a great hiking partner and a brighter outlook on my hike. I was willing to think that maybe, just maybe I could do another hike. Now, however, I'm staring a bleak job market in the face, examining my paltry skill set, and having trouble picturing a world where I jaunt off to a day job and squeeze adventure in on the side. It's not pretty. I'm not sleeping, I'm stressed, and the only appealing future is another hike filled with suffering and and filth and junk food and monotony... and freedom. FREEEEEEEDOM!
If you had told me ten years ago that I'd be single, almost 30 and looking forward solely to living in the woods, I'd have never believed you. I had that whole vague "living the dream" idea of a career and partner and having babies going on. Well folks, LOOK AT ME NOW.
I'm going to go relive the glory days, start sifting through those California pictures... and rethink this blog*. Initially my goals were to... well... gosh... I guess to jump-start the ole illustration career? (You know, the one that never got off the ground once I left my cubicle and started hiking. Whoops.)
*And by blog, I mean life. Ahhh!
An accurate depiction of how I feel right now. Flailing! Stuck! Eeek!
Soon I'll be home, venturing back to the East Coast after wandering the West for more than five months. I don't have any regrets. I don't regret my failure to document my journey on here (ok fine, I feel a tiny bit remorseful) and I don't regret the hardships I endured both to accomplish this adventure and while it was happening. Perhaps there is a subconscious reason for abandoning writing, both digitally and in a tangible journal; perhaps the need to spend time alone processing emotions and experiences in an alien place requires no meditation or exploration other than the physical act of walking.
Soon I'll be walking much less, embracing shorter mountains and steeper climbs up them. Soon I'll be bitterly cold but terribly happy. Soon I'll be in New England again.
Here is one last snapshot of the trail before I head home in two days to sift through hundreds of photos and countless memories. I'll see you soon. I promise.
76 days, to be exact. But hey! I'm alive. I'm still hiking; I didn't quit, skip, or have anything bad befall me. Instead at the end of the day I simply just felt too tired or inclined to socialize. So I stopped writing. I might start again. Maybe.
I am after all in Oregon now (finally!) and perhaps that deserves documentation. It certainly feels important enough to me. I've stalled out in Ashland, taking a whopping 4 days off and not accomplishing very much. I suppose I am ok with that. It felt better than walking, that's for damn sure! I'll try and quickly detail some of the highs and lows of the past few months for you now.
I had a friend save me and offer me a pair of gently used ultra-light ti goat poles. It's been wonderful using them and I feel so lucky to have repeatedly encountered the generosity of the hiking community.
I managed to convince Tom at Kennedy Meadows to slackpack the last 24 or 26 miles into there (or did he convince me?). Upon starting at almost noon, on an incredibly hot day, I then promptly sat down on a cactus and got tiny little spines embedded in my thigh, hand, and ass. Not very fun. Karma for ditching the pack for 6 hours? Perhaps.
I fell in platonic love with Not A Chance as we hung out at Kennedy Meadows and bonded over an 80's and 90's music dance party. We were later informed that we were obnoxious. I will concede, just this one time. I have a terrible habit of losing Not A Chance and her boyfriend Croation; the last time I saw them was as they were leaving Vermilion Valley Ranch. I had decided that I deserved pie and was determined to do a work-for-stay and gorge. They were leaving just as I came in. I regret not sticking with them, as they are now over a week ahead of me!
I received the best care package ever from the lovely Persistent. And also from Rocket, who sent me a poem more timely than you can possibly imagine!
The Sierras were magical, beautiful, challenging, epic, and rewarding. Every day there were multiple pay-offs... which certainly led to disappointment when we headed back into more mundane wooded areas past the Sierras. The northern descent off of Forrester and Muir pass were my two favorite areas. Truly magical landscapes. The most beautiful hiking I have ever seen. (And yes, there was hardly any snow to traverse. We had it easy!)
Andrew and I encountered a man dealing with anaphylactic shock (passed out, due to a bee sting). Andrew helped find the epi-pen, we monitered vital signs, and a helicopter was called.
Sonora Pass was beautiful and also marked the beginning of the end in terms of my positive attitude towards long distance hiking. I struggled for weeks, hiked some shorter days (15 miles), felt exhausted constantly and on the verge of tears, was bored, and in general went through a very blue phase that lasted weeks/hundreds of miles. Certain things brightened my day at these moments: receiving a postcard from Hungary (thank you!) from a stranger who read my blog was wonderful! (I'm so sorry I stopped posting!). The trail angels at Bucks Lake were lovely and made me feel like family.
Mt. Lassen's national park was scenic, short, and contained a resort with a hot spring pool and lots of left-over food for hikers. Yes, please. I encountered a baby chipmunk shivering and abandoned in the road and warmed it in my pocket before placing it in a sunny bale of hay.
I stared at Mt. Shasta looming in the distance for days and days as we traversed in a loop around it. Mt. Shasta is a great town, very hiker friendly although you are likely to be mistaken for a homeless bum, since there are a lot f those too! I had great luck asking for rides in front of the health food store. I also forgot my piece of carrot cake and felt disproportionately sad. The hike into the town of Mt. Shasta was not that appealing to me. Dry dirt and prickly needles and hot weather and excessive uphills. I was in a funk. I have seen a total of 7 bears now, though!
I had a friend visit me in Etna, where we frequented the brewery, I binged on farmer's market produce, and we slept in the park like sneaky hobos. My mood slowly began to lift and the Marble Mountains were beautiful.
I have been hiking with Grit, Last Minute, Rem, and Rubylocks - I am very averse to groups but somehow keep winding up in theirs! They seem fond of me. They have also helped enable this ridiculously long stay in Ashland. I may push a bit harder now - I feel better mentally (although physically I am oh so tired) and I am getting ready to be done. I look forward to exploring Washington and Oregon, and I also look forward to perhaps taking some fall classes and pushing myself academically. And also being healthy again. That would be nice.
So big miles lay ahead of me. I'll try and update again by the end of Oregon. Thanks for your patience, support, and love!
The day begins with sprinting to a suitable bathroom area, which turns out to be directly below trail. A hiker passes me as this happens and I have no idea what they witnessed, but hope they didn't notice. I have a sluggish morning and only walk for about 20 minutes before stopping, but enjoy perching on a log, letting the sun slowly warm me (it was a cold morning) and drinking coffee made with cold water, watching the stream below me. I ford the very cold stream a while later and continue on over the very sandy trail. At around noon I reach the detour, which is a junction with a bridge. If you opt to take the detour, you miss the hot springs. I heard that the trail is mostly repaired (it was closed due to rock slides and erosion) and so I plan on not taking the detour (which also has some unpleasant road walking)I wade under the bridge, notice another hiker has set up tent on the bank (which is strange because it's the middle of the day, but I assume that they are taking a day off on trail, or just a very elaborate nap). I end up using a section hikers aqua mira drops to treat my water, bump into some more forest service employees while using a nearby bathroom, and then hike on. I later learn that the hiker who I thought was napping instead had a hurt foot and other hikers had called for help in getting him out to the road and off the trail.
It turns out to be a dreadfully hot day, and I feel dehydrated. I collapse on trail and Stretch walks up and offers me some electrolyte mix, once again saving the day with his generosity. I feel much better after drinking this and hike on, looking forward to the hot springs. The trail winds onward from on high and towards dusk I have a stand-off with a rattlesnake, who is so still that at first I think it's dead, until I see the tongue flicker. I throw a few rocks towards it, hoping to spur it into moving on, but nothing works. There is a steep pitch both above and below and I am getting desperate. Finally I scramble in the loose sand above and this prompts the snake to slowly move away. In the late afternoon I reach the hot springs and as I walk closer I see naked people, and no hikers. My poor overheated brain feels overwhelmed and I can barely manage to respond to the "welcome to paradise" that a naked hippie has cheerily greeted me with. I avert my eyes and plop down next to Stretch, who is cooking dinner. I slowly become acclimated and the hot springs are really nice - there are a series of 100 degree pools hugging a cliff and the creek has widened enough to almost feel like a river. More hikers show up: Ruby Locks, Calf, Rattlebee and a few others and I come out of my shell even more.
Knowing that it is a Friday night and this is a popular spot, I backtrack and camp on the very steep descent leading up to the hot springs. I'm right, and people show up around midnight, and thru-hikers walk right past me. Despite their interruption I sleep better than the hikers down below me on the beach, who tell me that people were up partying until around 3 am. The highlight of the evening was definitely the human flute, a strange being who was ululating at the top of his lungs in one of the tubs.
I wake up with none of the loneliness and sadness of yesterday. I plan a short day and a lazy morning, with the excuse of resting my knee. From my tucked away campsite I watch as a forest service employee hikes by and this stirs me into action at 9:45. We end up chatting twice, and she is very kind. She knows Teddi, who is this amazing woman I met at Kick Off who coordinates trail crew volunteers and thru-hiked solo in 1977, which was way more challenging on several levels. I meet Stretch while taking a break and we commiserate over aches and pains and he is kind enough to give me some extra-strength anti-inflammatories. I meet and walk with Caveman and a dayhiker named Kevin, for a few hours.The weather is beautiful and I nurse the 2 liters of clean water I saved from yesterday, making it last.
The bluebells are incredibly prolific and are an extra luminous blue-purple in this area. I didn't realize I would be walking through yet another burned forest today, but here I am. I can't say I love this terrain the way I do NH and ME, but it is beautiful in its own way. Just before the final road crossing of the day I stumble across a real hobo camp, with chair and solar light and old pick up truck and tent but no occupant in sight. It's slightly unnerving just because I don't know what the owner is like or where they are. I keep walking and a few minutes later smell smoke and discover Chili and Pepper camping by the stream. They are a father son team that I first met on the AT. Chili is only 13 and is on his second long distance hike. They had met the man living near by and said he seemed harmless. I chat for a while and they offer the use of their filter, which is a great relief, since I wouldn't normally trust this water source.
Walking on I discover the perfect tent spot, dropping down from the trail onto a sandy beach protected by boulders and abutting a small cataract of water. It's lovely. I do struggle to find a site that isn't overrun by ants, though. I immerse my knee in the cold water, rinse off, and dig a fire pit and have my first fire of the trail with driftwood. There are tons of stars and a white-throated wood rat comes creeping round as the fire burns down low. He is moving around sluggishly and seems unafraid, even when I crouch over him with my camera. Dinner is mashed potatoes with olive oil, textured vegetable protein, sun dried tomato, dried vegetables, and melted mozzarella stick and pepperjack cheese - it's delicious. It was a good day, and my knee barely hurts. I do experience a brief moment of anxiety when I realize how close I am to another road, and I think I see a bright light off in the distance but I calm down because the bed of coals is warming me nicely and the sound of crickets and the dull roar of water are the only sounds.
I'm at Kennedy Meadows attempting to finish an overwhelming backlog of journal entries. Here's some breaking news to entertain you in the meanwhile:
I never ended up hiking with a town dress, because half the time I don't even stay in town. Also, a full disclosure would be that it was the one item I forgot to pack.
Snow is predicted for tonight in the Sierras. I have yet to check the forecast myself, though.
I've hit that stage in the journey where I am too tired to journal at night, and so am attempting to recall about two week's worth of incidents and campgrounds.
I continue to be overwhelmed and impressed by the generosity and kindness I encounter within the hiking community. Friends of friends, people I haven't even met in real life, total strangers... you know who you are, and you are all wonderful.
Also, I may or may not have had a misadventure in the high desert involving snow and no shelter. Full disclosure forthcoming eventually!