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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

September 2014

Canada!

I just thought I’d let you know that I’ve made it! I still have every intention of completing my blog…just decompressing here in Canada after walking the final miles this morning. Everything is so surreal at the moment.

Thank you all for reading and supporting my journey. My life will never be the same.

Stay tuned for the rest of this blog and very hopefully an AT journey in 2015!

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Day 143: Pushing 30

Miles: 28.45
Camping: PCT mile 2391.31
Miles to go: 277.68

Though the elevation profile today was looking a bit ominous, HZ and I decided to try for a 30 mile day. We are both willing to hike in the dark a bit, and the closer we get to town the nicer our day will be tomorrow. It is supposed to rain, so it was also motivating to try and skip the wet weather where we could get away with it. I knew a 30 was quite ambitious in Washington, but I’ve been feeling great lately and up to the challenge. It is as if I am stronger every day, and I probably am. Plus, HZ is one of those power hikers that can do big miles. I wanted to see if I had the chops to keep up.

The day really had a lot of big climbs. HZ did most of the talking in those sections, while I held back and focused on breathing and not being concerned with the fact that I was literally drenched in sweat. It takes a bit more effort to keep up with him and I know he is capable of going much faster. The company was refreshing though, and the huckleberry bushes somehow clung to summers last berries, feeding us along the way. We stopped several times to fill our mouths with the sweet berries, my fingers turning that familiar purple tint. We stopped by a beautiful spring a little off the trail and made coffee. We sat for about half an hour, still chatting and always eating. HZ is good at eating and walking simultaneously, but I need my mouth for breathing when I walk. Sometimes I feel like an amateur with these strong hikers, but I know I’m holding my own pretty darn well.

Just half a mile back on trail we ran into a cooler of trail magic! There was soda and snacks, neither of which actually interested me at that point, but magic in general is good for the soul. I was happy to see it there. After the trail magic we walked on, moving pretty fast. It is hard for me to keep up with HZ, but it feels good to push myself, I really feel quite incredible these days. The only real problem is that I sweat a great deal more and have developed some very painful armpit chafe. It is all par for the course at this point, as thru hiking was never meant to be painless. The miles went pretty fast, and we had soon met up with Pirate Bait and Pisa by a stream 25 miles into our day. We all sat and bathed in the water before cooking dinner, and Pirate Bait told us the story of how he was hijacked by pirates while canoeing the Amazon. Crazy story! HZ and I finished dinner and then broke out our headlamps to finish our 30 mile day. I was still feeling up to it and knew it would pay off tomorrow. He got quite a bit ahead of me, and I just trudged on up the steep climb to our destination. Unfortunately, it started to rain a couple of miles before camp and I began to wish I had stayed at pace with HZ to reevaluate our game plan. Fortunately, he was already setting up camp as I walked up and he said, “the 30 is cancelled.” I shrugged it off, knowing that I could have completed the miles, but better to set up camp before things got too wet. I got my tent up record fast and crawled into its warmth, feeling good to be dry. It was still a little early, so I curled up with some whiskey and Bill Bryson…ready to get into town tomorrow. I’m very satisfied with today!

Day 142: Pie Indeed

Miles: 26.59
Camping: PCT mile 2362.84
Miles to go: 306.15

I slept great for the first time in a while, the folding of my sleeping pad under my hips helped a lot. I thought I heard rain hitting my tent in the night, but when I finally got up everything was dry. Breakfast went well this morning, as I was up early enough to watch the sun rising as I ate and I didn’t drop my only lighter in a pot of water before lighting my stove. I felt great and was eager and ready to make tracks today. I started out walking pretty slow but the views were worth taking in, and I was enjoying myself. By lunch I figured that coffee would pick up the day, and I found a spot under some trees for shade. As I began my lunchtime ritual of tortilla and tuna wrestling (my tortillas don’t hold form in my pack and they get a bit crumbly in travel), there came some southbounders down the trail. Again, I needed a moment of recognition before realizing it was Buddy Backpacker and family! There had been much speculation as to their whereabouts, and if they were even still on trail. They had also flip flopped and were headed all the way back to Belden, California. A lot of folks decide to start hiking south if they feel that they can’t finish the trail on time, ending wherever they left off. It was great to see more familiar faces this lunchtime, a new tradition I can get behind. We caught up briefly, but they had miles to make and didn’t linger long.

After my coffee I poured some electrolytes in my water for an extra boost and saw yet another person headed my way. This time it was Hoff Zombie and he was headed the same direction as me. He is from Australia and I had met him briefly back in Bishop, CA, but have never spent time with him until today. We talked as we walked and he is quite interesting, having traveled much of the world paragliding. We hiked to the Urich cabin, some 8 miles down the trail and decided to cook dinner there and then hike on (shelters usually have mice and aren’t desirable to sleep in unless the weather is inclement). The cabin was in the Government Meadows, a common elk grazing area, and was very well kept as a ski shelter. From the log book entries, it appeared that there had been some partying here on the days prior, which I was happy to have missed. I don’t care for more distraction at this point and I’m quite happy keeping a quicker pace with HZ, who normally hikes 30-35 mile days.

After dinner we hiked to a spring 5 miles on where we had planned to camp, but it was still pretty light outside and we’d already had dinner. We agreed that we could get a couple more miles in and the whole afternoon seemed to disappear with the fading daylight. The conversation was good and kept us both awake even after the sun went down and we were hiking with headlamps. Eventually, we stumbled upon a campsite next to a dirt road and decided to call it a day. We set up our near identical tents right next to each other and talked as we did our nighttime chores. It had been a productive day of hiking and I felt really good again. I wasn’t even that tired and felt as if I could hike 5 more miles, but knew I’d be missing some cool stuff hiking in the dark. I also tend to stumble a bit more by flashlight, depth perception thrown off by the extra shadows. We are only 37 miles from Snoqualmie Pass now, a town I’m excited to visit. I think it is where Twin Peaks was filmed and that makes me think of pie. I could certainly go for a piece of pie when I get there. Pie indeed.

Mt.Rainier

Day 141: Lunchtime Surprise!

Miles: 20.65
Camping: PCT mile 2336.25
Miles to go: 332.74

It was quite cold this morning, and the only motivation to get out of my sleeping bag was hot coffee and oatmeal. I got everything ready from within my warm cocoon and was about to light my stove. I was looking everywhere for my lighter and when I sat up it fell straight into my pot of water. Well, there goes hot breakfast…as I don’t carry backup, and it will take a while for this one to dry. At least I’ve been conditioned to eat cold breakfast out here, though that was never my intention in Washington. I kept a good attitude about it though and got moving quickly to get the blood flowing.

I came to a fast flowing creek crossing and found a new confidence in myself. I barely hesitated as I started across, but stopped when I saw Blanko on the shore looking at me in a questioning manner. Was I not even supposed to cross? I guess I had just assumed it was where the trail went and suddenly wasn’t sure, mid river. I turned back and greeted Blanko who I haven’t seen since somewhere around mile 266. He was looking unsure because he didn’t like the route I’d chosen, or any for that matter. He was just coming off 7 days in town with shin splints and hopping along rocks wasn’t on his healing plan. I shrugged and hopped to the other side, encouraging him to follow me. Soon, we were both on the right side of the river, climbing switchbacks.

I stopped by a stream to wash socks and collect water and Blanko hiked on. Reconfiguring my pack, I somehow dropped my warm hat. I can only hope that someone behind me recognizes it and picks it up for me. In the meantime I found a spot where I could dry my socks and eat lunch. I was on a ridge under some trees going through my food bag when someone was coming up on me. They stopped by the clearing, a man with a beard (not a rare sight out here), and he was just standing there, smiling at me. At first I just smiled back and said, “hi,” unsure of who he was. He continued to stand there and just as I was beginning to question why, I recognized the man behind the beard as The Jolly Lama! If you’ve been reading since the beginning, he is who I hiked with during the first week. I haven’t seen him since Warner Springs (mile 109.6) and he was beardless back then. Now, almost 5 months later, he was standing on a ridge, smiling at me while I fought with torn up tortillas and tuna. He had flip flopped and was now hiking southbound so we were only briefly reunited.

We sat and ate lunch, catching up on the months that had passed, though I had more questions than I could think to ask. I had thought of him so many times over the miles, as he was my first real friend on trail. The short time we had together at lunch was sweet but we both had to move our separate ways eventually. The rest of the hike offered some pretty impressive views of Mt. Rainier, such a big mountain covered in the biggest glaciers I have seen. I walked past several lakes and vistas of Rainier before coming to the highway leading into Mt. Rainier National Park. There was road construction happening, and cars lined up for quite a ways waiting to get where they were going. I did not envy their position on this hot day, on that hot highway. It was noisy, and the trail walked above and along the road for the next couple of miles. I hadn’t walked very far by the time I got to Sheep Lake, almost forgetting about the road. I didn’t feel justified in stopping there for the night even though it was beautiful. I just don’t feel as if I have the time to take my time anymore, but I was hungry, so I decided to stop for dinner by the lake. I enjoyed some noodles by the shore and watched the sky change color against the mountains around me.

It felt good to hike after dinner, and progress seems to mean more at this point of the trek. The trail went up and over a pass, and as I huffed and puffed I felt really good about getting this pass done before tomorrow. This will make tomorrow more productive, and I will likely sleep better with the extra hiking. Lately I haven’t been sleeping well, so I’m wondering if I haven’t been pushing myself hard enough. I also wondered if my flattened sleeping pad was the culprit, as I forgot to replace it when I had the chance. The Jolly Lama suggested folding it over under my hips for extra support, so that could also assist in giving me more restful sleep.

Anyway, I followed a ridge that seemed like it had no flat space to camp, happy to be walking, still loving Washington. Not being in the trees, the sky was still fairly light and I was confident that something would turn up before too long. Fortunately I’d already had dinner, so I wasn’t concerned with eating after dark again. After a couple of miles, I saw a perfect campsite right next to the trail overlooking the valley below, mountains all around. It was just turning dusk so I decided to set up here. It is a beautiful spot, and it feels like home. I watched the sky turn dark and stars come out, each one seeming to say hello as it’s sparkle greeted the night. I feel more content here than I have in a long time, sitting up against a fallen tree, sipping whiskey and reading Bill Bryson. It’s a great evening, home on the trail.

Jolly Lama reunion

Day 140: White Pass

Miles: 16.06
Camping: PCT mile 2315.55
Miles to go: 353.43

I’ve never camped so close to town before, and it felt great to wake up only 2 miles from a hot breakfast. I quickly packed up and made my way down the short, easy section of trail to the road. I knew that Blisster, Dayglo and Testament were already there, but I wasn’t sure how far behind the rest of the crew was. My plan was to get in and out of town in the same day, as time is running out for September, and I’m looking forward to the towns to come. White Pass is just a pit stop along the way, with not much to offer but a small store that has a small selection of fried/microwaved foods and pizza.

I got into town and was immediately happy to see espresso offered. That’s a great start to the day already, not to mention sitting and drinking my breve with Blisster. I dug through my resupply and opened a box from my friend Elaine. She sent me a supply of VIA that will last through the whole state of Washington, and some socks too! I packed everything up and sat charging my electronics as other hikers began trickling in. A few of them were getting rooms at the motel but I wasn’t feeling the usual draw to stay. I’m really enjoying this part of the trail, and I’m eager to get to Canada. Then I can rest.

After chatting, drinking coffee, bumming a shower from Dayglo (he had a room) and eating fried foods, I made my way back to trail. Blisster had gone on ahead of me, and I didn’t think I’d catch him today. My goal was only 12 miles to a stream with a campsite, and I knew he would have gotten well past that by the time I got there. There were many dry creeks and stagnant pools, so I was a tad concerned with the water situation, but stayed optimistic. I figured I would just go until I found water, but hopefully not into the dark. There wasn’t much else of note today, it was an average day with no real views or anything spectacular.

I made it as far as I intended just before dark and the creek ran aplenty. There was a large campsite, so I selected a tent site under some trees well off the trail and made camp. This is an obvious horse camp, as they are prone to leaving evidence of their presence…but I don’t mind. I was just mindful of where I laid my tent and prepared my food. It was dark by dinner, and I realized just how much I don’t like doing dinner after dark. Bugs fly up into my headlamp and land in my food, which just doesn’t taste as good when it’s not light out anyway. I made a mental note of that fact as I went to bed. It’s not as cold as it has been so it should be a comfortable night. I look forward to tomorrow, and beginning the countdown to Canada.

New socks and all of the VIA. Thanks Elaine!!!

Day 139: On a Knife’s Edge

Miles: 23.94
Camping: Ginnette Lake PCT mile 2300.89

I woke up from the deepest sleep I’ve had in a long time, wondering if the lack of sleep as of late is responsible for my dizzy spell yesterday. I felt great this morning and was super excited to hike through the Goat Rocks wilderness today. After the Sierra, people always talk about Goat Rocks as one of the most beautiful sections of trail. It includes the infamous Knife’s Edge, a precarious section of trail that follows a narrow ridge. At least my bout of vertigo was on flat ground, and not on the Knife’s Edge.

The hike started by climbing up to an open vista, the trail winding through a crest in the mountains. I stood on the mountainside looking across valleys and peaks endlessly spread out in front of me. The mountains were diverse, some with rocky and jagged peaks, others rolling along, Mt. St. Helens in the distance. It was a breathtaking scene as the trail followed the side of one mountain to a pass. Going over the other side was just as awe inspiring and I could see the trail unwinding like a ribbon around the ridge, waterfalls cascading from the tippy top to the very bottom of everything. It reminded me of the Sierra though it was almost more precious in its own way. When I came around the hillside, I looked back to views of Mt. Adams getting farther away as I moved north. I felt like I was in a different world, a beautiful world. I never want to lose this sense of childlike wonder. The moments of awe where I feel as small as a grain of sand in this amazing wilderness. This is so big, so grand.

After walking through some mountain meadows I came upon a large snow field that I had to traverse. We did it all of the time in the Sierra but haven’t seen snow in ages at this point. I still love the way it crunches under my feet as I walk. On the opposite side of the snowy traverse there lay the razors edge, a section of trail that you can see unfolding across a ridge line, steep slopes going down on either side, Rainier looming large on the other side. I could see the trail for a long distance and it climbed up to the top of the ridge, dropping to the other side. It is amazing to stand on a piece of trail looking forward, seeing what lies ahead. I started walking the razors edge and the wind howled around me. The trail was incredibly narrow in parts, incredibly rocky, beautifully designed. You really feel like you are on top of the world standing up there; Mt. Rainier holding up the horizon, everything on such a grand scale from so high. I stopped in a wide spot to have second breakfast and take in the view, amazed at the world we live in, blessed to be able to have this intimate experience with nature.

After the razors edge, the trail descended through a glacial meadow where I collected water from the glacial melt. I love being able to drink water straight from the source without treating it, it feels right to fill up and tip back, topping off after a healthy swig or two. I made lunch and continued hiking. I was happy that I had experienced the dizzy spell yesterday instead of today, as this is much more precarious terrain and so beautiful, I’d hate to miss it. Everything about today was wonderful and I hiked with a big old smile on my face most of the day. I got myself just 2 miles from White Pass where I will go in for my resupply box and of course, a hot meal. There is a weekend backpacker named Cole here, and we are camped by a small lake. We chatted over our respective dinners as his dog lay in the brush, resting after a day of chipmunk chasing and mountain climbing. It was a cozy camp feeling, and I feel really good. Town again tomorrow, one out of four remaining…a notion I just can’t get my head around.

I also passed the 2300 mile marker today, but somehow missed it. I guess my head was in the scenery. Only 3 more of those remain before the border, another thought that kind of blows my mind. I can’t believe how far I’ve walked, how far I’ve come.

The Razor’s Edge
Mt. Rainier in the distance

Update: Washington

Hello there! I’m currently 330 miles from Canada, which is going to be a little over 2 more weeks of hiking. Everything is going amazing, aside from some last minute gear snags I’m working through (my sleeping pad is flat, my down jacket got ripped and is losing down, I dropped my warm hat somewhere on the trail…but I’m HAPPY!) I feel great, and Washington is spectacular. The days are getting shorter though, and I’m falling behind on my blog. I take notes every day, but haven’t had much time to fill in gaps. I will get it done, though it will be slowly. I’m really sinking into the experience these last couple of weeks, and want to savor every last second. Thanks for your continued support! I’ll update slowly, but surely. Until Canada! It’s so close!

Day 138: Dizzy

Miles: 24.10
Camping: Walupt Creek, PCT mile 2176.96

I slept pretty poorly in the icy chill of the night. I woke up at 1:30 thinking it was morning, only to be reminded that we are coming off of a full moon. It was so bright and I was so cold. I was wearing all of my clothes and my bag is rated down to 15 degrees, but somehow a chill seeped into me anyway. It didn’t help that I had to pee, but there was no way I was getting up in that cold. I know I would have been warmer if I had gotten up, but I wasn’t convinced that it would be worth it. When dawn did reveal itself I had no choice any more. I got out of my tent and relieved myself quickly, diving back into the warmth of my sleeping bag as fast as possible. I lay there staring up at Mt. Adams contemplating how I would conjure up the will to function in the cold. The river by my tent was frozen over, and it did not help me get motivated. Finally, the idea of hot coffee and oatmeal inspired movement and I prepared breakfast from within my sleeping bag.

After the initial kick start, I made more progress towards actually hiking and really enjoyed the morning. I made it to a spring and collected water, sitting in the sun. I find it humorous that I now look for a good spot for a break in the sun, when it has always been the shade until now. It felt really nice to warm up on a rock, like a lizard in the desert. I am also embracing the cool fall air, it is rather invigorating and easy to hike in.

I realized after second breakfast that I still hadn’t seen any of my group today. Someone typically catches up to me, but I’ve only seen other independent hikers that were already ahead. I’m okay with that as I feel more independent in Washington. I’m really soaking up these last experiences alone, savoring the moments. With a group I get a little frustrated and I’ve always enjoyed solitude in nature. I soared down the trail, moving fast through the trees, continually grateful for the absence of foot pain. I’ve dreamed of these moments and here I am living them.

After lunch I was moving at a pretty good clip, calculating miles against hours, trying to figure out how far I could go today, unconcerned with the agendas others might have. They may catch me and they may not. I’ll see them in town either way and though I want to savor my friends as much as the trail, this is quite addictive. I feel high on all of it…and perhaps a bit more than expected as I began to grow dizzy. I laid on a log to center myself, felt slightly better and still quite motivated, so I picked back up. Maybe half a mile later I saw 3D talking with some bow hunters and I stopped too, swaying a little, feeling a lot off balance. I just stood while she talked, not sure where the vertigo was coming from, just trying to collect myself. We walked away and she went fast, and soon I was sitting by the side of the trail with my head between my knees. Blood sugar? I ate some fig newtons and waited in hope that a friend would appear. No one was coming except for dark, so I made myself pull it together enough to find camp.

I walked another 5 miles before I found a campsite next to a stream. It was a concentrated effort, but I made it happen. I set up camp and cooked dinner feeling much better after eating. Maybe I’m not eating enough…and yet I feel as if I’m always eating. Laying down for sleep, I was proud that I made it here, that I can take care of myself when I have to. It feels good to be independent. It feels good to be on the trail. I sure will miss it.

Day 137: Loving Life, Loving Washington

Miles: 15.34
Camping: Killen Creek,  PCT mile 2252.86

Before leaving the cafe yesterday I had grabbed a huckleberry cinnamon roll to go. I slept with it by my head to be sure it was kept safe and periodically woke up to the sugary pastry smell throughout the night. It made getting up a real treat as I lay in my sleeping bag taking little nibbles. We were headed back to the cafe for breakfast, and I knew I would eat well there again. I do love breakfast most!

After we lazily ate up breakfast, we headed over to the store to finish our resupply. There we met a nice couple in a truck that let us all pile in the back and drove us to the trailhead. Not only would they not accept gas money, they gave us money taboot! I’m still in constant amazement of the generosity and kindness we encounter on the trail. I’m feeling incredibly blessed by these people, not to mention the countless amazing people in my life already, on and off the trail.

We hit the trail, and not surprisingly started climbing uphill off the bat. It is getting easier every day and it actually feels good. The views kept opening up to all of the volcanoes; St. Helens, Adams and Hood – sometimes all at once. A few of us stopped and had lunch at the top of the climb, taking in the last views of Mt. Hood. It’s hard to believe I am still essentially in my own backyard. We hiked on, continually seeing the vastness of the wilderness around us, volcanoes all around. At one point I was right on the flanks of Adams with Rainier looming large on the horizon. I found myself standing between two volcanoes, loving life and loving Washington.

It looks and feels like fall, but every once in a while you round a corner into a pocket of summer. I let myself get wrapped in the warmth, soaking up what’s left of it in those moments. Occasionally, a wind picks up, reminding me that winter isn’t far away, especially this far north. All in all, it’s hard to believe this all started in the desert. Washington really feels like it is worlds away from where this all began, and it really is. We hiked until we found a beautiful waterfall in the meadows below Mt. Adams where we set up camp. I washed my feet in the glacial melt, shivering and grateful, always appreciative to be where I am. As the sun sank, I became even colder than I could have imagined. We are pretty high in elevation and I can barely feel my fingers and toes. I’ve been carrying a small flask of whiskey to fend off the chill, and I sipped on that before tucking into bed. Now I need to warm my bones and drift away…more great scenery tomorrow.

Breakfast in Trout Lake with Blisster and Danger Spoon
riding in the back of a pickup truck back to trail.
lunch break
Mt. Adams
St. Helens
Adams

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