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“Wander a whole summer if you can…time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” John Muir

Month

April 2014

Day 2: Wind

Miles: 18.8
Camping: Lower Morris Meadow mile 38.8
Hikers seen on trail: 12

Last night at Lake Morena the wind started. It started as a few passing breezes, and then WHOOSH, all night long. I slept with ear plugs in, something I only do if I know other people are around, and there were enough other hikers nearby for that to work out.

I could also hear some dogs nearby (not coyotes), and they somehow worked their way into my dream.

I woke naturally at 5:30, which is something I’m not entirely used to, but I like it. I like adjusting to a new time clock, and enjoy the idea of sleeping when the sun does. Guinness and Xtra Stout were already up and having breakfast. Since their tent was already packed, I figured they were ready to break trail, and I needed time to eat, do some yoga and pack up my own things…so I told them I’d see them later and went about my morning.

At 6:30 I hit the trail, making my way along the flat, shady path that leaves the campground and into the desert. It was a beautiful morning, and I didn’t have to hike in the sun for several miles. The wind was ever present, though inconsequential until later in the day. The next water source was only 6 miles up trail, so I got away with a lot less water than when I left the border yesterday. That combined with having eaten some of my food made my pack so much lighter. It felt great, and I found early on that I absolutely LOVE hiking alone. I can go at my own pace, stop and take pictures whenever I want, and make up silly songs to myself. My favorite was about my “Fruit & Nut delight” trail bar and it went something like this, “I like fruit, I like nuts, I like delight…and I’m nuts.”

I reached the campground with water fairly fast as the walking had been easy all morning. I turned on my phone and was able to text my mom to tell her I was alive and well before losing signal. I had a blister forming in yesterday’s hot spot on the ball of my left foot. Super inconvenient, but I suppose that it will toughen up soon enough and I won’t have to worry about that spot any longer. Right? I popped it and added benzoin tincture and mole skin…and wished I had leukotape. My next bet will probably be the outfitter in Mt. Laguna at mile 42.6 (I was at 26 @ the time).

After popping the blister and filling my water bottles, I sort of hobbled down the trail for about half a mile nearly stepping on a baby rattlesnake! I was down wind from it, and it didn’t budge. I stood mesmerized, waiting for it to make a move. It did nothing, so I snapped a picture and gave it a wide berth. Every stick thereafter was something to approach cautiously, which took my mind off my blister for a little while.

That was when the climbing began. It was gradual, but exposed, and the wind was blowing in my face slowing me down a lot as I tried to climb. I later found out it was 20+ mph winds all day (and even still as I hunker down for the night).

Another amusing hiking alone moment was when I used my best monster truck voice to say, “Extreme winds!” As I battled my way uphill and against the strong gusts. I was amused, and still smiling broadly, happy to simply be on the PCT! This feels like all I was meant to do, and it’s all I want to do. Hiking is by far my favorite activity.

I soon realized that it was going to be real difficult to find a lunch spot on the exposed ridge with both shade and a wind block. It took me almost 4 miles to find a suitable spot, and when I did, I was beyond ready. This blister is not relenting, and it’s in the worst possible spot. There is no way to avoid stepping on it, and I couldn’t very well stop hiking. I was enjoying that part a lot. The views have been breathtaking, with mountains as far as the eye can see, with scattered valleys between them. Not to mention the fun sages and cacti, lizards, birds and insects.

I took a long lunch to ease my blister pain and a few other hikers passed by, all commenting on my great spot. I enjoyed the respite from the wind, heat and blisters, but I couldn’t stay there forever. There is still so much more to see!

The rest of the walk was windy and painful. I felt as if I’d be blown off the mountain on several occasions and had to hold onto my hat. I decided I would poke holes in it and add string when I got to camp, so my hands could be used for balance instead of hat protection.

At some point I realized that I must be compensating for the blister poorly, as some ankle pain began to develop. I took smaller steps after that, thinking of using my foot properly so I could get to the next water source and camp without injury. In the process I met a nice man named Rocket, who was taking a break in a spot that seemed to break the wind. We exchanged pleasantries, and I hiked on.

Finally at the water source, a small stream called, “Long Creek,” I took out my new water filter (Sawyer Mini) for the first time and saw that the pouch was only 16oz and I needed 3 L to get to the next water source, which means a lot of extra work (rookie mistake!). Sensing my frustration, a nice man from Tacoma, WA named LJ came to my rescue and helped me collect water in his larger pouch. Thanks LJ! He is hiking for a month or so with his son and his son’s girlfriend who were also dealing with some blister issues. It’s pretty commonplace this early on the trail, and the best thing to do is keep them clean. I look forward to when my feet toughen up though…I will be so happy when I’ve paid my beginners dues.

I set up camp a mile up from the creek, hobbling the whole way. I had to find something out of the wind, and I can’t say I was that successful, but options were limited. I found a little cove of trees that helps with some of the wind, but it is relentlessly blowing in all directions and a constant howl. I decided not to use my stove due to the wind and simply rehydrated some quinoa, lentils, tomatoes, onions and celery in the shelter of my tent. The wind is a little eerie now that it’s dark, and it’s been  blowing for nearly 24 hours already. I didn’t like the thought of camping alone in it, but I heard some other hikers pull into camp and set up. That puts my mind at ease, because  this wind is enough to drive one mad. Alas, it’s just part of the experience,  and it too shall pass…though I’ve just become aware of a tent peg that has somehow blown loose, and my tent wall crashes down on me when the gusts are hard.

I better try to sleep (it’s only 8!), so I can get an early start into Mt. Laguna in the morning. Praying for the wind to die down at some point…goodnight!

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Day 1: 20 Miles Out of the Gate

Miles: 20
Camping at: Morena Lake Campground
Hikers seen on trail: 10

I woke up at 4:45 from a dream that involved a rattle snake too big to be real. I wasn’t scared, merely intrigued; an indication that it was not, in fact, a stress dream. I felt great, and took a shower that will likely be the last of its kind for some time.

Frodo was up cutting fruit and making french toast for breakfast, and there was also some chile relleno frittata. Guinness, Xtra Stout and I ate anxiously awaiting the big day that was to follow. The other 3 guys staying at the house are starting Wednesday, so Scout took the 3 of us to the trailhead at 5:45. The drive was beautiful, and the anticipation grew as we got closer.

As we arrived, Xtra Stout remarked that it was like “our” driveway. I have no idea if she meant their driveway back home or like our driveway to the trail. I like to think the latter, and that the southern terminus is like our front door and we have a long walk to the back door, seeing as the trail is our home for the summer.

After the obligatory photos at the monument, we hit the trail at 7:11am. We left a young man named Michael at the monument getting his picture taken a hundred times by his mom… but we guessed we would see him down the trail.

The first 7 miles were real easy, and we cruised along pretty fast before taking our first break 2 hours in. Michael blew right by us and we never saw him again, which we expected. The trail got a bit steeper after that, and I began feeling the weight of my pack for the first time, but I felt great nonetheless. So many times I caught myself smiling from ear to ear and thinking, “I’m on the PCT!!”

The scenery was beautiful and unique, with sections that reminded me of Lumpy Ridge behind my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Estes Park, CO (hi Craig and Pam!) There were lots of cool rock formations, and everything was a lot greener than I expected. So many plants I’ve never seen and Yucca that was taller than most people (the one’s who don’t play for the NBA). I loved seeing the landscape change as our elevation changed, and the 3 of us keep pretty much the same pace, so we stuck together all day long.

At 10.5 miles we stopped for lunch as the heat of the day amped up. We found a spot under some manzanita where another hiker had already set up. Her name is Emily and she was only looking to do half of the trail. We all chatted, ate snacks and elevated our feet in the shade. I used some of Xtra Stout’s leukotape for a hot spot that was beginning to develop on the sole of my left foot…I’ve never heard of it before, but it already seems to be better than moleskin (it actually sticks!).

The next 5 miles grew increasingly hotter as we passed 2 girls resting in the shade of some small trees, and an older gentleman from Corvallis clinging to a small puddle of shade near a rock wall. We then found ourselves walking along an exposed dirt road under some powerlines. It was HOT, and we stood next to a boulder providing some cool shade and called it trail magic…before experiencing our very first real trail magic!

There is an oasis of trees in a place called Hauser Canyon, where normally a stream runs through, providing plenty of water. Since the stream was dried up, some kind soul had left about 2 dozen gallons of water there for hikers. It is so touching to see that kind of support, and it really made me feel like i was a part of something wonderful. We lounged with our feet up and enjoyed some of the bounty before the gruelingly hot climb out of the canyon.

The climb was exposed entirely to the afternoon sun, and we climbed up slowly, knowing that somewhere on the other side was Lake Morena. We already looked forward to the showers at the campground (our skin was so salty) and burgers from the store. It was rough, but I was still smiling to myself, “I’m on the PCT!!”

On the climb we passed a man who was taking it real slow, and he said, “see you at the lake,” as we walked by. For some reason this moved me, as we are a family out here, even if we are just beginning, and it’s beautiful. I love the trail!

It was about mile 18 when I decided I’d had my fill for the first day, but only 2 miles from the lake I pushed on. It was hard on the soles of my feet and my back was tired, but my body impressed me today. I think I’m going to do well out here, and I look forward to seeing myself get stronger.

Camp has been uneventful. Everyone here (about 8 hikers including us) seem beat from the day…aside from the residual partiers from the kickoff party that was here this weekend. They were pretty well rested and most moved on near dusk. The rest of us ate pizza and burgers, took showers and are going to bed with the sun.

It feels good and I’m sleepy…so that will have to be the story of day 1 on the PCT. It’s been a great day, and I look forward to more to come! Goodnight.

Day 0: San Diego

Last night was my last in Portland for a while. I picked up my last paycheck and said some tearful goodbyes to friends I’m used to seeing on a daily basis. Though it isn’t really goodbye, emotions got the best of me, especially when walking out of the bowling alley for the last time ever. I shed my first real tears in a long time, but that felt kind of good.

I had a dream that I got to the trailhead and forgot water. Every time I went to go fill it up something would get in my way, and I never got to hiking. Typical dreams before a big journey…I wonder what I will dream tonight (if I can even sleep).

When I got to San Diego, I took a bus to Old Town and had quite the encounter with a local as I was waiting to cross the street:

Her: Could you move?
Me: why?
Her: you need to move now.
Me: I’m just waiting to cross the street, I will move when the light changes.
Her: What did you say?
Me: uh…
Her: I heard you mumbling something about my skin melting off because I’m black. You white girls gotta watch your mouths.
Me: ???

I decided that I wasn’t going to cross there, and walked the opposite direction of crazy. To my delight, this landed me at a cute Mexican restaurant where I had chilaquiles for breakfast on a lovely patio in the sun.

Frodo (the trail angel who is hosting a few of us hikers tonight) picked me up from the restaurant and I met Guinness and Extra Stout who will also start tomorrow. They are a nice couple from North Carolina. Guinness hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2011 and Extra Stout is his lady friend doing her first long hike.

Scout and Frodo have a great set-up for hikers. I am very impressed and comforted by their amazing hospitality. I’ve heard about trail angels, but this is my first experience with them. They go above and beyond my expectations, and I’m so grateful for this welcome to my new life.

They have a scale set up for weighing packs that hangs from the door frame. So far, I’ve only weighed my food (I’m a little scared by the reality that my pack is a tad overweight, so I’m delaying its weigh-in). My food bag weighs 6.5 lbs, and I have no idea if that is too much or not enough. I’m terrified of not having enough food (though I’m willing to guess 6.5 lbs is more than enough). It is all part of the learning curve, so I will find out soon enough and make the proper adjustments.

Soon, we will prepare dinner and enjoy our last night in beds for a while. I’m happy to finally get moving in the morning, I’m more antsy than ever!

Next post will actually be from the trail! Yay!

Pre-hike stress isn’t about hiking.

Today, I awoke feeling nervous for the first time since I decided to do the PCT. 
Not for anything to do with the hike itself, which is actually a relaxing thought for me. It’s the endless list of chores to get done before I take off that has me feeling a bit frayed.
It’s the pressure of finding new homes for my belongings, of whittling down my items for storage, enlisting people with various tasks (like mailing my resupply, and acting as my liaison so my mechanic can sell my car after I leave); moving out of my room, saying goodbye to people at work who I may never see again, accepting that so much (especially myself) will have changed when I return…
Will I have it all lined up by the time I go?
The hike really carries very little stress for me. It’s just survival at that point; it’s walking, reflecting, and only being attached to that which I can carry. That all sounds delightful compared to the burdens of tying up lose ends and putting my proverbial ducks in a row. My life will be so much easier only worrying about my basic needs out there. Nothing more. Nothing less.
It sounds more like freedom than anything else I’ve done before, and I’m ready to be free.
13 days remain…and I’ll be on my way.

20 Day Countdown

I woke up yesterday before it was light, teetering between elation and nerves. My hike begins in 3 weeks, and it all of a sudden seems so CLOSE.

I made mental lists for an hour, laying in bed, wishing I was still asleep … wishing I was already on the trail, all of the planning behind me. One foot in front of the other, that’s all I will have to do. That and know where the next water source is going to be, and to find shade for those long mid-day rests.

Enjoying nature. Enjoying the desert.

Three weeks from today it will be my second day hiking in the desert. Ever. It will be hot, and there will be tarantulas, scorpions and snakes (rattlers!) – sometimes 30+ miles between water sources; cacti, poodle-dog bush and hot, hot sun … But I’ll be on the trail.

On the trail!

A lot of people dread the desert for the aforementioned reasons. Doesn’t sound like a walk in the park, does it? But, I’ll let you in on a little secret: This girl, the one who used to be paralyzed with fear when encountering a common household spider, is really looking forward to the desert experience!

(Apparently there are glow in the dark spiders as well … gross, but COOL!!)

Really, I’m excited! It’s the unknown landscape, and I can’t wait to explore it all, challenging myself every chance I get.

Most hikers stick by the rule of “10 by 10,” which is hiking 10 miles before 10am, resting for the next 6 or so hours while the heat of the day wanes, and then hiking into the night. I can dig this method, and love the idea of hot naps in the desert sand with creepy crawlies doing their creepy crawly thing around me. From the sounds of it, all hikers tend to rest together in the same places, because shade is scarce (This is often under bridges. How hobo of hikers). This means that there will be a pile of stinky hikers under the same shade of the same cactus – every time it shifts, we all follow it diligently; rationing sips of water and pieces of melted trail mix, trying to keep those feet from feeling the brunt of the miles being put on them.

It also sounds completely dreamy to hike through the desert at night, under the stars. That alone makes up for the idea of hours of body contortion, trying to emulate the shadows cast by random cacti.

20 days-Nothing can stop me now!!!!!

Gear Shopping and Ambassadorship

Over the last month and a half, I have spent HOURS at Next Adventure and REI trying on different packs and walking around the store (I have both layouts pretty well memorized by now-as well as a wider knowledge base of packs). There was so much more to consider than I’d ever thought possible, and I found myself nitpicking minor details that could become issues after hundreds of miles of wear.

One hit my lower back roughly and would probably promote a lot of chafe, a couple had straps that dug into my arms (also chafe inducing), some put too much weight on my shoulders, some were just heavy…

It took a LOT of deliberation, patience and multiple trips to both stores, but I finally selected a pack that I love (from Next Adventure!). I’m sure we’ll develop a more love/hate relationship over the coming months, but right now, it’s definitely love. My little home away from home for the summer, like my own personal turtle shell that I don’t quite fit into.

I chose the ULA Circuit, which is a popular pack among thru-hikers. It’s very lightweight and designed by long distance hikers, so it has a lot of features one wouldn’t normally look for. My favorite: hand loops that hang from the chest straps, so I can comfortably keep the blood from rushing to my hands (this incidentally earned a gal the trail nickname,  “T-Rex,” last year because it makes it look like you have little arms). It has different straps and hip-belts for different bodies, and I found the combination that put the weight comfortably on my hips without stressing my shoulders or back. It’s a lovely pack.

Then, I got the phone call. I was chosen out of hundreds of applicants to be an ambassador for Gregory packs and be one of the “Dirty Dozen!”

A few weeks ago, I entered a contest put on by Gregory Packs and Keen footwear. 12 people would be selected to represent these companies on their thru-hike this year and receive free gear. The “Dirty Dozen”

A gear company wanted me to wear their pack, and it would be free! I could even trade it for another if I wanted along the way…I’d be an ambassador! (This is a big honor in the outdoor world).

But, I found myself declining this wonderful offer…not an easy thing to do when faced with the increasing cost of choosing the right gear.

Though I really put a lot of time into choosing the pack that I’d want to carry for roughly 5 months, it feels a little shameful to turn down an opportunity to be a gear ambassador. The man who called to inform me I’d been chosen was so darn nice, and sounded a little dejected when I told him I was going with a different pack. He is a fan of ULA though, and didn’t try to talk me out of it. He wished me a great hike and I told him he got to make someone else’s day (which is always nice).

I figure, if I can afford to turn down a free pack, someone else probably needs it more than I do anyhow. Also, I pretty much entered the contest for the free socks more than the pack … but that was apparently not in the cards.

I hope to meet an ambassador down the trail and see how they feel about their pack, and hopefully I’ll still feel good about mine.

The last two pieces of gear to buy: A water filter (I’m going with the Sawyer Mini, and iodine tablets for those truly sketchy water sources) and a bear canister (waiting until Kennedy Meadows as they have a deal for thru-hikers there, and I won’t have to ship it).

I suppose I’ll do a gear list soon, with weight and all that. It’s a really popular topic of convo among hikers, and seems to bear great importance in their blogs. I will abide in time. In time.

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