Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Day 140, September 3, Oregon is for Fighting

Jude Lake

Longer days spent hiking are making motivation to write difficult to come by. Today was another in a series of tough days in Oregon. We woke up by 6 and hiked all day, but the terrain was total...ahem...garbage, for lack of a nicer word. All day - rocks, tallus, lava, etc. So frustrating to hike over terrain whose only goal is to ensure twisted ankles and low morale. Side note: I have NO IDEA how people hike 35-40 miles a day in Oregon over this terrain. Makes no sense to me whatsoever! Dr. Slosh was (yet again) so patient with me as I hiked slowly, lamented that slow pace, and occasionally just burst into tears of frustration, pain, etc. I had 8 blisters and a hot spot on my left foot alone at this point. Just another example of a section that was supposed to be easy and proved itself far more challenging, especially mentally, than expected. Trials on the trail are so much more challenging for me when they are unexpected.

Trail conditions aside, the scenery was pretty nice on this day, although most of the highly expected views of Mt. Jefferson were obscured by clouds - but I'd definitely like to come back when the weather is a little better. We also had a serious river crossing for the first time in a long while. And in other good news, Slosh has been so patient, which is major props to him because I have been fairly miserable and I wouldn't blame him for leaving me in the dust. We barely made it to camp before dark and only completed 24 miles, which was far less than we'd hoped, which is unbelievably frustrating. I didn't expect to battle blisters and foot pain 2000 miles into the journey. But I refuse to quit at this point, and know that at this point, there's nowhere to go but up! So looking forward to a weekend in Portland to hopefully heal my sad, sad feet.

Weather was iffy all day, and after a big climb, headed down toward Ollalie Lake. Made it to a nice campsite at Jude Lake just as dark settled in. Hoping for easier days to come!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Days 136-139, August 30-September 2; Beautiful 3 Sisters and the Cusack's in Corvallis

Lakeside Mile 1965 to Sisters/Corvallis; Day 0; Mile 2007 to Hillside Mile ?

Leaving the lakeside campsite and heading out towards and past the 3 Sisters, the hiking was absolutely beautiful. Definitely my favorite day in Oregon so far. We started the day with rolling slopes across a meadow that bypassed South and Middle Sisters as the trail stretched North. So beautiful, and such interesting scenery as we passed by all day. We entered the "Obsidian Limited Entry Wilderness" - ahhhhhhmazing! True to its name, we first spotted a few bits of the black glass rock & soon enough it was absolutely everywhere...ranging from small fragments glistening in the ground to enormous boulders of the slick rock glass. We stopped for a break at Obsidian Falls to have a snack and take it all in - bubbling spring above obsidian waterfall and all.

As during all of our best trail days, we adopted the zen approach, and I was able to stop thinking about and stressing over deadlines, and when we need to get to the next stop. We arrived at Wade Lake after crossing the best named pass of the trail to date - Opie Dildock Pass. Slosh and I agreed that whoever poor Opie was, he had a pretty unfortunate name...but that whenever we finally get a dog, it would make an awesome dog's name! Rocky and Trex decided to exit to Sisters at McKenzie instead of Santiam Pass, and I joined them. After a number of complicating factors, only TRex and I wound up in Sisters that night. We hit up the grocery store before it closed and collected the standard: ice cream, fresh fruit, and beer. Oh, the diet of a hiker!

The following day, Dr. Slosh's former roommate Chris picked us up and carted us back to Corvallis for a little time off trail with friends. The Cusack's earn the award for the best hosts ever! We had a lovely time - so lovely that we decided to stay an extra night! We drank good beer and cooked a FEAST of lamb kebabs, majadra, and roasted eggplant charmoulah...and of course homemade hummus and pita. We ate on the patio with Chris, LeAnn, and baby Ayla and had a wonderfully relaxing evening - it was perfection. Thank you Cusack's for yet another wonderful visit to Corvallis! Ayla is 2 now and such a joy to be around - so dang cute to boot. After she went to bed, Chris took Slosh and I out for an evening on the town - we took out the bikes and visited Corvallis' new brewery, where Slosh's former labmate, Becky, and her husband Foster met up with us.

We were supposed to head back to the trail on Sunday morning but it was doomed from the beginning. We went out to breakfast at Tommy's and had some fantastic, fatty food. We spent the rest of the day just relaxing and finally getting around to our trail chores. Chris made some delicious homemade pizza, and we called it a night. We got an early start Monday morning, and Chris hiked the first 6 miles with us (and Bodhi, their Golden Retriever came too!) We stopped for a picnic with great views of 3 Fingered Jack and ate lots of the leftover food from the weekend. Chris left us after lunch and we marched on. The day only got harder from there, and I had a few more meltdowns.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Days 133-135, August 27-29, Small World

Mile 1884 to Shelter Cove; Shelter Cove to mile 1936; mile 1936 to mile 1965

Shelter Cove was fantastic. We only had 20 miles to go to meet Rocky and TRex at the lovely campground right on Odell Lake, but predictably got a late start and then took a long lunch on the shores of the lovely Crescent Lake. As we were eating, we met a couple who own a vacation home on Odell Lake. They asked us about our journey and mentioned that their daughter's college roommate also hiked the PCT a handful of years ago with her now husband. This couple mentioned that the PCT hikers now live in Bellingham. Brett goes on an annual "man-ping" hike in Northern Washington every year with a big group of guys, and on a whim, thought he'd ask if the hikers these two were talking about could possibly be the same as one of the guys Brett hikes with. Turns out it was the same couple - Jaime and Jamie (or Solid and Stripe, their trail names)! What a very small world - there we were hiking the PCT, on the shores on a small lake in central Oregon, talking to a couple from Seattle but vacationing in the area - and we both have connections to the same former PCT hikers!

From Crescent Lake, we had about 10 miles to get to Shelter Cove, but I just didn't want to hike. We talked to Rocky and TRex, who had already arrived to the campground and were happily sipping beers lakeside in some fabulous adirondacks by the firepit. I was SO CLOSE to asking our new friends for a ride up to Shelter Cove, but decided against it at the last minute. I just couldn't bring myself to asking them for a ride. I've gotten better at being able to accept gifts from strangers, but straight up asking is still too weird! Brett jumped ahead towards the end of our last 10 miles in order to pick up a few essentials before the store closed, and I arrived a little after 6 to see Brett, Rocky and TRex sitting under strung lights on the grass near the giant firepit next to the docks. What a picturesque/perfect/happy moment! After joining them, we looked up to the sky to see bald eagles circling above. As with so many places on this trail - I never wanted to leave.

After leaving the next morning, we hiked up and past Willamette Pass - the location of my ill fated snow camping of a few years back during my stint in Oregon. (For those unfamiliar - Brett and I decided to go snow camping/backpacking but managed to select the coldest weekend of the uncharacteristically cold winter. Needless to say, it was a rough weekend...I was convinced I had frostbite, and even when we got to our car at the warmest part of the day, the ski resort clocked us in at negative 7 degrees.) Seeing this place in the summer was such a different experience! I remembered a snow covered meadow from a few years ago that turned out to be a beautiful alpine lake.

We hiked through a burn area and made camp in the first place we could find that wasn't surrounded by dead trees liable to fall at any time. TRex had enough service to get a call out to ChikChak, who we hadn't seen since Sierra City. She was having a rough day, and I so wanted for her and StarFox to be with us right then. We miss the rest of the Wolf Pack!

The following morning we got an early start and things went well for most of the day. We decided to "stop at the coffee shop" a few miles in - which means we got to the next water/lake, took off our packs, and made our instant coffee while chatting and hoping the weather would hold off...the rain was threatening. We hiked, hiked, hiked all day, and ended our day with a surprise climb that killed me. I made Dr. Slosh entertain me by telling me everything he knows about rap, who his favorite artists are and why (E-40, duh), and all the history he knows about East Coast vs. West Coast. I just couldn't think of anything else to talk about, and for whatever reason I wanted to hear more about Andre Nickatina...among others! Barely made it to camp before it was pitch black out, but I couldn't have been happier to be inching closer to Santiam Pass.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 132, August 26 - First 30miler in Oregon

Mt. Thielsen Wilderness mile 1854 to Campsite near road mile 1884

First 30 mile day in Oregon! We didn't get started until 8, took a long lunch, and weren't moving particularly quickly most of the day - so it was a great feeling to know we made it that far despite less than ideal circumstances for big miles.

The sky looked ominous leaving camp and I was convinced it was going to rain...but it never did! Hooray. We had some epic views of Mt. Thielsen as the trail skirted up and around the West side of the spires - a few dark clouds and fresh patches of snow from the storms of the past few days reminded me so much of Patagonia and Torres del Paine particularly...brought me back to December 2006 - very pretty, and also nostalgic hiking!

We got water from Thielsen Creek, which was meandering and bubbling through a bright green meadow down the side of the mountain. Everything was so picturesque. We had lunch on the side of a cliff and I managed to get enough cell phone service to call my Dad and say hi. He told me that he'd bumped into my former boss Kathy that morning - I miss her lots and it was great to hear that she's doing well.

We hiked the rest of the day and briefly into the night - made it to camp just after 9 and crawled into bed.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Days 130-131, August 24-25 Crater Lake, Hater Lake

Mile 1809 to Mazama Village mile 1829; Rim Village mile 1834 to Mt. Thielsen Wilderness mile 1854

The last few days were tough - yesterday morning feels like FOREVER ago. We only had 20 miles to get to Crater Lake and hoped to get there early enough to take the afternoon off. We made it by 4 and had a chance to get burgers and beer and then spent the rest of the day at picnic tables set up outside the store with other thru-hikers (including Busted, Man in Black, Sierra Bum, Apache, Gone Slow, Shady Acres, Sweet Tooth, and Pants Off Dance Off). It was fun to be around so many other hikers - it's been a while! What made it even better was that we caught up to them...feels good to be gaining ground.

While the original plan was to hike 5 miles out that evening to the rim of Crater Lake (we were in the National Park but a few miles away from the actual lake still), my foot pains had reached new levels on the way in and there was no way I was going to hike one more mile that evening. Unfortunately, the campground was completely full, so we decided to stealth camp at the edge of the official campground near a trail. I didn't sleep well because I was paranoid about getting busted - the rangers at Crater Lake National Park are pretty strict about things that us dirty thru-hikers typically spend our day doing - hitchhiking, camping in un-designated campsites, etc. Earlier in the evening, I'd heard that a ranger had spotted a backpacker camping in between the road and the rim using an infrared scope and issued him a $600 dollar ticket a few weeks prior. With nowhere else to go, we reluctantly camped at the edge of the campground...but I spent the night paranoid a ranger would spot us and give us a hard time. (Side note - I have no problems following rules and am usually totally risk averse and hate breaking them! But it was pretty frustrating to be in a place that enforced rules without providing reasonable alternatives. e.g. absolutely no hitchhiking allowed, but no walking trails into the village and store/restaurant, thereby forcing a mile long road walk alongside a highway with NO shoulder. Dangerous?! I think yes!)

The following morning we hopped aboard the trolley up to the Rim Village. The first one didn't leave til 9am, and let me tell you - it was a luxury sleeping in, especially on a dreary morning after it had rained all night. As soon as we stepped off the trolley, the skies opened up...greaaaatttt. Hustled over to the cafe for coffee and spent the morning lounging, writing postcards, and waiting for the worst rain to pass. We thought that had happened when we got on the trail around 11:30, but not a mile in, the real storm started. A major thunderstorm (flashes of Sonora Pass! agh) and here we are hiking along the rim of Crater Lake. The gusts of wind were intense, it was freezing, then the hail started. I was absolutely miserable! We literally couldn't even see the lake that we were walking around. (The rain kilt I've been carrying since Mexico finally made its debut, however. So chic.) Ironically enough, all this was at the start of a 27 mile "dry stretch", so we were also carrying 7 liters of water. Water was literally everywhere, but we had to carry over 15 pounds of the stuff. Add to that the 7 days worth of food and we had some heavy packs...it was a rough day. Ultimately, we got a few nice views of the lake and were able to push for 20 miles by days end which put us in decent position to make it to Santiam Pass to meet Slosh's former roommate Chris on Saturday.

Of all places on the entire trail, Crater Lake was near the top of my list on places I was excited to see and visit. I lived in Portland for a year after college and always wanted to visit but never made it down to see the famous blue lake. I was so excited to arrive, but the bottom line was that Crater Lake was not very hiker friendly. I always feel slightly self conscious going into town after being on the trail for a while - being more or less homeless, stinky, and vagrant is a new way of life for me. However, usually people are fantastic and pretend like we're not even in need of a shower as badly as I know we certainly are. Who would have thought it would be in a National Park that people would make you feel the most awkward? Upon leaving, Slosh deemed Crater Lake the Hater Lake. What a shame for the place I was most looking forward to on the whole trail!

Alas, now I can say I've seen Crater Lake! I can also say I'm not all that eager to come back anytime too soon, I don't care how beautiful it was!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Day 129, August 23 Canada is Inching Closer

Highway 140 mile 1780 to last water before Crater Lake, mile 1809

I needed a good day to remind myself that I am capable of completing this journey, and I finally got it today, in the form of 29 miles! Whew.

We got an early start, and I hustled right out of the gates up a 1300 foot climb. We quickly arrived in the Sky Lakes Wilderness area and the hiking finally got beautiful again - I'd definitely love to come back here again as we definitely don't have enough time to properly appreciate the area. Took a nice break at a spring and then carried on after taking in some of the scenery.

We begrudgingly decided to opt out of the Sky Lakes alternate route after realizing that completing sufficient miles was the day's goal. The alternate route passes by a handful of beautiful lakes, while the PCT climbs high above those lakes through a waterless stretch. It would have been too much of a tease to pass by all the lakes without being able to stop for a swim and a nice campsite - we're on a mission now and Canada is looming!

Later in the afternoon, we passed the 1800 mile marker! I realized we only have 8 of those left...pretty wild to even think about. The hiking became even more stunning with sweeping views of volcanoes surrounding us in all directions, lava fields, and beautiful trees. I felt like I was on top of the world, quite literally. So beautiful. At one point I peered South and caught a glimpse of Mt. McLaughlin far in the distance. The camp I had left that morning had been on the South side of the mountain, and here I was just a few hours later watching it from at least 20 miles North. It really hit me that the rest of the trail and trip is more or less a direct route to Canada - no more farting around hiking miles East, West, or South for days at a time as would frequently happen in California. Seeing how far away that mountain was from my single day of hiking gave me chills. All the anxieties since Ashland seemed to wash away and I stopped questioning myself for just a minute as I took in that view.

Still, there's plenty more trail ahead. I didn't think I'd still be facing self-doubt on whether or not I'm capable of completing the trail so far into the trip. I assumed if I made it to Oregon, I'd have no question about the certainty of finishing, and that everything would seem like a walk in the park by this point. The trail continues to challenge me, and the struggles take me by surprise. I mentioned to Slosh recently that I thought this would become "easy" at some point - he responded by telling me about a professional cyclist, who was asked in an interview about how he "made it look so easy." The cyclist responded that it never gets easier - you just push yourself harder, go faster and further. The trail is similar - it never becomes easy, we just push ourselves harder. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is the hardest thing I've ever done! It's also so rewarding, and I'm looking forward to the feeling of having completed the journey..in just over 800 miles!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 78, July 3 - Adventures with Storms

Mile 1,000 to Sonora Pass, Mile 1018 Today was intense. I'm happy it's over, and I'm happy to be alive. Even happier to see friends! We left camp at 7, but it was a rough day from the start. Brett received a text from his Mom that he'd overdrawn his checking account due to a check that wasn't cashed that he'd forgotten about - not the best way to start the day, especially when you're living in a world where you forget about the everyday concerns of normal life (i.e. $$$!) The day was gorgeous, and we got to the start of one of our last major Sierra climbs early and I felt great. I motored up the switchbacks while Brett readjusted some electronics, and as a rare treat (or maybe he just wanted me to think I was flying), Brett didn't catch up to me until the end of the climb. I felt like I ran up the whole mountain! We decided to jam up the side of the very end for a better view, and stupidly skipped the trail to hike straight up...which meant that we missed a turn off for the PCT and wound up on a different trail for a bit before realizing we'd made a wrong turn. We had to cross country back to the PCT, and before long noticed that clouds were building from the South. KingStreet's guide had quite explicitly stated that "the top of the climb towards Sonora Pass is NOT a place you want to find yourself during a thunderstorm", so we hurried along as fast as possible as we were hiking pretty solidly above the tree line. Unfortunately, we had over 5 miles of exposed terrain to hustle across before heading back down to safety, and run as we might, those clouds were building, and building, and building. Brett seemed pretty nervous about the impending storm which in turn terrified me - he doesn't worry unnecessarily, so I knew we were in a bit of a tight spot if the clouds opened up on us and electricity started striking. Most of the hiking was across scree and some leftover snow patches, and the only trees in sight were thousands of miles down the mtn - a POSSIBLE last minute evacuation, but certainly not ideal, as even those were short little stumps that wouldn't provide much cover in the event of an electrical storm. Clouds continued to build and surround us, and I had a minor panic attack, something along the lines of "I DON'T WANT TO DIE HERE!" while hysterically crying (for reals - I swear I'm not usually so dramatic). When the storm finally opened up on us, we had made it within a QUARTER MILE of the descent (and safety!) Unfortunately, not close enough to continue hiking and finish our day. Fortunately, close enough to some low hanging shrubs and trees as to provide a bit of shelter in an electric storm in the Sierra. We were only a mile from our meeting point with friends, but had to literally sprint down the side of the mountain to take cover after the entire sky seemed to light up with the first strikes of lightning, and the ground shook from the rumbling thunder. We may as well have been 100 miles from the Sonora Pass PCT junction at HWY 108. The storm started out tame enough, but soon enough it began hailing all over - the hail got to be the size of golf balls, and it hurt. We were huddled under these tiny little trees trying to stay warm, sitting on our sleeping pads (the foam doesn't conduct electricity) waiting out the storm. Usually, afternoon Sierra storms last an hour, maybe two at the most. After 4 hours, we were both getting very cold, and worrying this thing might not let up. We realized it might not just "blow over" and Brett suggested just hiking down. The lightning was everywhere, and I questioned his logic - when he couldn't explain WHY this was a good idea, I knew he wasn't well - usually I'd take any of his backcountry advice, but he wasn't making sense. I went to check on him and saw his entire face was blue - his lips were particularly blue and I realized we were in trouble. Time to set up the tent. We didn't previously because we didn't want to set up a metal rod in the ground, but I realized it was time we warm up - the only way I wasn't shivering uncontrollably at that point was by singing songs to myself and remembering happy times and warm places. I pitched the tent and got Brett into warm clothes, and felt safer when I saw he was finally warming up. We hunkered down...a total of over 5 hours until this crazy storm ended. I thought we'd be there forever, and was so glad when it finally cleared up. It was a really scary experience, and it's definitely the closest I've faced mortality in my life. Too intense! I cried again when it was all over, but was glad to know that I can help make good decisions for our little team if needed. The end of the day was weird - the storm blew over and we packed up and headed down the hill the last mile. We expected our friends to have been waiting around all day for us, but they arrived literally 2 minutes after us! Perfect timing, and I've never been so happy to see friendly faces. We spent the night at the trailhead as everyone arrived with great fanfare, and everyone looked forward to our long weekend together!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Day 77, July 2 - 1,000 Miles on Foot

Rancheria Creek, Mile 981 to MILE 1000!!

Well, I can't believe I made the next huge milestone. A few reflections on today, and the first 1,000 miles... 

Today was harder than expected, which meant the day mentally kicked my butt. I've learned that, while hiking, some of the highest highs come from successfully completing a challenging day more easily than expected, and some of the lowest lows come from an unanticipated struggle on what was supposed to be an easy day. A climb that was listed in my maps as only 400 feet (a walk in the park) was actually straight up over 1,000 feet in less than a mile - that's SUPER steep in the PCT world! That climb began only a few miles in, so it didn't set the tone for a good day when I was sobbing at the top of the surprise climb. To add insult to injury, it was SO HOT. We lingered in camp in the am with KingStreet (KS), Rocky, and TRex - enjoying coffee, breakfast, and companionship before what was expected to be an easy day. Really wished I'd gotten moving sooner after the sweltering heat!

As the miles dragged on, the sky darkened and we anticipated another afternoon thunderstorm - I was happy to have at least completed the climb and descended from the exposed granite before the dark clouds materialized into an electric storm. Slosh and I hiked on and soon heard familiar voices yelling our names - Rocky, TRex, and KS had taken shelter for lunch away from the building clouds under the eaves of a cabin right off the trail in the middle of the wilderness. After enjoying lunch and socializing for a bit, we determined the storm wasn't going to materialize, and made the decision to charge toward mile 1,000. My heels are pretty torn up right now, and my feet have been constantly wet the last few weeks due to stream crossings - the last few miles were absolutely brutal. At long last, I crossed the 1,000 mile marker! The campsite we're all at is awesome and right on the river (although absolutely overrun with mosquitoes...) We had an awesome bonfire before hopping in bed.

ONE THOUSAND MILES BY FOOT: I feel stronger than I have in a very long time, and I feel empowered! I'm frequently struck by how hard this STILL is (today=good example!), and everyday I still hope for the moment when all this seems to come easily. I'm so happy to have great friends out here, and I'm so much happier when we all get to hike together. It's funny to think back on my biggest fear - that I wouldn't make any friends. I've made some awesome friends - people who I click with and have felt close to since the moment I met (or re-met, in the case of Rocky!) - but I also have learned to enjoy my alone and quiet time more than expected. That's pretty refreshing. I'm more in touch with nature and the world around me - I know when the moon waxes and wanes these days! Today was one of those days I was ready to have HAD the experience but wasn't enjoying HAVING it, but those days have become far more scarce. I've never yet actually gotten close to giving up though...as LT pointed out in one of our early conversations, I'm far too stubborn to ever turn around or give up; I've already told too many people I'm doing this! Still, the thought of our sweet apartment in Oakland and a fully furnished bedroom/living room/kitchen always sounds pretty alluring. We've gotten to the point where, as of tonight, we all sat around camp talking about reaching the Canadian border together, and what that would be like. That will be so crazy! I've given far less consideration to "Post-PCT Life" than expected, but I feel pretty happy just living in the now...for now. I know that's not necessarily the most responsible long term plan, but it's nice to just enjoy life as it comes. Mostly, tonight, I am exhausted and in need of a good night's rest. Amigos arrive tomorrow - must be on A game!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Days 73-76, June 28-July 1 - My Dinner at the Ahwahnee & Reunions at Long Last

Lyell Footbridge in Yosemite Mile 932 to Tuolumne Meadows Mile 942, Day 0, to Trailside Mile 958 to Rancheria Campground Mile 958

The 10 miles to Tuolumne on Friday morning were fairly expectedly longer than expected. I've come to learn that 10 miles will seem like nothing if you're close to town, but those miles tend to drag so much longer than the average 10 miles! Also, sometimes the flat and easy seems to drag on forever. We made it to the store and Post Office around 11:30 and bumped into some old friends - Buff, Happy Hour, Squeaks, Grande Burrito, and a few others. We bought a pint of ice cream and a 6 pack of beer to share among the 3 of us and toasted Jon's successful trip from Mammoth, picked up mail, then quickly headed out to Yosemite Valley for our planned meetup with Gail, Brett's Mom. I had all kinds of goodies waiting for me in the mail! Shya and Renee sent a fabulous birthday package complete with baked goods, temporary tattoos, and backpack flair, my uncle sent a really great card, and my former coworker the hilarious Steve sent the 3rd of a number of letters to me. What a treat! They made my day.

Gail and Jon treated us to dinner in the dining room at the Ahwahnee Hotel - so amazing and delicious! The dining room looks like the great hall from the Harry Potter movies, it was so grandiose and majestic! They brought a few of our bottles of Ridge from home and we enjoyed them with our various plates of pork, steak, or lamb. I almost forgot what foodies we are at home! These days a fancy dinner consists of something you have to actually SIMMER in boiling water before letting it sit and digging in.  At the end of the meal, they brought birthday cupcakes out for Jon and I, and Brett ordered the "red velvet cake for 2". For 2 was no joke! The slice was probably a foot tall and wider than his head - even I was a little surprised he managed to finish the whole thing on his own!

The time went too fast, and the next thing I knew it was time to check out - of course no laundry was done and I'd only completed a fraction of my correspondence, chores, etc. There's never enough time in towns! Jon and Gail headed back home and Brett and I hit up the market in the valley to tackle resupply until Echo Lake, and then hopped on the bus back to Tuolumne Meadows. As we got on the bus, who should shout out our trail names but the one and only Sour Cream?! He had planned to meet his Dad in Yosemite but his Mom also flew out to surprise him and hike with him as well, so we had the pleasure of getting to know both of them. It was so great and refreshing to see Sour Cream after so much time, and fun to catch up on his time in the Sierra. As the bus pulled into Tuolumne I looked out the window to see none other than Rocky and T-Rex also! Finally seeing our friends again is such a game changer!

Our plan was to hit the trail right away, but of course that wasn't about to happen after catching up with so many friends. Brett and I decided to stay at the Tuolumne Lodge for a good night's rest in one of their tent cabins. Hit the trail the following morning and moved slowly after realizing that we drank beer the previous night but never bothered with dinner. It was a rough day, and our extended relaxing ever since we arrived in Mammoth took its toll. We caught up to Rocky, TRex and KingStrett the next day and hiked with them in the afternoon - it's sooo good to be with trail friends again! And home friends get here in just 2 days!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Day 72, June 27 - Why I Hike

Garnet Lake to Yosemite Mile 932

Jon probably got the closest taste of true thru-hiker life today - over 11 miles! The hiking was fun, the scenery was great, and we crossed a major pass (Donohue) and some pretty good fords. At the end of the day, Jon said he has a new appreciation for what we're doing but has no clue why we're doing it.

I thought a lot about the "why" question - weirdly enough, not many people asked it! I suppose in a place like the Bay Area, it doesn't come as a HUGE surprise when someone up and quits their job in favor of going and living and hiking in the backcountry for six months, but I imagine many people did silently wonder what the h I was doing throwing away a good job and comfortable life to essentially become a hobo. It's hard to explain, but I think for me, a lot of it was because it was hard. I wanted to put myself up for a real challenge, and I threw myself in before I could second guess myself enough to convince myself I'd never be able to do it. I wanted a goal to strive for, and I wanted an achievement to call my own. Obviously, also because it's beautiful and scenic and a wildly wild adventure. But also because I want to push myself to new limits, and redefine what I'm physically capable of. But then you get out here and that end goal becomes so remote and far away and not at all what it's all about - because it's more about the day to day; the work, the joys, the tears and struggles. And also about getting to that next milestone, whatever it may be: a town, a 100 mile mark, a 50 mile mark, a nice place to set up the tent at the end of the day - whatever it may be.

Knowing that I can survive (and even sometimes as of late, thrive) on my own out here is empowering, and that is a really awesome feeling! Maybe a feeling I've denied or been unable to feel in a while. The past few days have reminded me of just how far I've come. From hardly being able to even filter my own water to hiking completely comfortably on my own - setting up tents, knowing how, where, and why to dig a hole, to skipping over rocks in a river, to just about anything else...including climbing a 12,000 foot pass and not breathing heavy at the top. The changes and progress have been slow and perhaps often unnoticeable, but I think this crazy trip may have more why - more purpose - than I can even fathom.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Day 71, June 26 - Hiking without Packs: Remarkably Comfortable

JMT Riverside to Garnet Lake

We all decided to near0 at our campsite in favor of taking a few day hikes around the area and making our area the basecamp - hiking without packs was Ahhhhhmaze-ing. I forgot how easy it is to walk without 35 lbs on your back!

Hiked up to Ediza Lake where Brett attempted some fishing, then we hiked further up to Iceburg Lake - a really fun hike/scramble up from Ediza through a few remaining snowfields and boulder scrambles. Turns out the lake is named Iceburg for a reason - about 40% of it was still covered in a giant iceburg! Pretty neat. We found a huge piece of granite to sit and enjoy lunch, and also ate the last of the birthday pie my Dad bought for my birthday and I'd carried in to relish in the backcountry. It was also Jon's birthday, so it was a joint birthday apple pie! Yumm.

We got back to camp later and packed up for our short hike to Garnet Lake, which is incredibly scenic. We snagged the last remaining campsite, cooked dinner, and mused on the fact that our little area looked like it came straight from an REI brochure, then called it a night.

All in all, Jon said he had a great 68th birthday, but that this trip has quite literally aged him! Not too many people spend their 68th birthday camped in the backcountry at an alpine lake 10,000 feet high - pretty impressive.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 70, June 25 - All Over the Mammoth Area Map

Reds Meadow to Agnew Meadow to JMT Riverside

Jon is hiking with us until Mammoth, and we decided to hike a little bit of a variation of the official trail. The storm from yesterday was still dropping a little rain this morning, and we decided to take a 4-5 mile day hike up to Rainbow Falls and Devil's Postpile, which Brett had never seen. For some reason, I'd never been to the top of Devil's Postpile, even though I've been there a number of times - it was pretty neat to see the hexagonal shape of the granite poles all locked together! By the time we got back to our campsite, the clouds began to part and we had actual hope of our gear drying out.

We took a little detour and then hiked up from Agnew Meadows - a very scenic and pretty section and then traversed a river path, right up the side of a waterfall (similar to the Mist Trail, but fewer people!) We passed by Shadow Lake (more of the same: gorgeous) then rejoined the JMT and camped at a great spot next to the river. Unfortunately, the mosquitos also seemed to love our campsite, and we spent the afternoon trying to avoid the little buggers. Hopefully that won't continue -they could make someone go crazy in no time.

I was still in a little bit of a post-Mammoth funk, but hoped after a few days on the trail that would go away on its own. Towns are great but too easy to get sucked into, especially when some of your favorite people are there too!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Days 65-69, June 20-24 - Mammoth Happiness!

Mile 889 to Reds Meadow, into Mammoth!

Even though there were still 17 miles into Reds Meadow (turn off for Mammoth), the morning flew by and before I knew it I was rounding a corner and seeing the 900 mile marker on the ground! What fun. We all took some pictures and then hurried on our way, and made it to Red's Meadow by 1:30 in afternoon. We were lucky to get a ride out of Red's Meadow to the ski resort from a family from Louisiana vacationing in Mammoth. From there, we got on the free biker shuttle to downtown and then hopped on the trolley to the Post Office and then for a slice of pizza with Tortuga. Brett and I decided to go grocery shopping and then get a cab to the house we'd rented with our friends - when we arrived, I could hardly believe where we were staying! The home was giant and luxurious - a pool table, sound system, chef's kitchen, beautiful bedrooms, and a hot tub on the back deck. What more could a couple of dirty thru-hikers ask for? Answer - hot water! The hot water heater had been set to vacation mode, so even after arriving in this multi-million dollar home, we couldn't take showers for the first few hours! How ironic. Instead, we decided to order a pizza and start relaxing.

Slowly throughout the evening, people started arriving - beginning with Brock, Jess and Fran's former rooommate, who was only staying with us the first night. Next, Joanna and Jason, who I haven't seen in ten years, showed up and it was so great to start reconnecting with them! Lastly, Mandi, Mad and Matt arrived and the weekend officially started! I think it's the longest Madison and I have gone without seeing each other since we moved away from Portland in 2008 - me to SF and her to LA - since she moved to the city we see each other far more frequently than once every two months! I was so excited for the long weekend to come, and we also had Mandi's graduation from Santa Clara to celebrate. We stayed up until 4am and then spent the entire next day relaxing at the house. I woke up Friday morning to the sounds of Lai and Fran who had come from the bridal house with Jackie, Steve, and another friend to say hi and catch up. A little later, Peter, Ryan, Julia, and Ryan's gf arrived from LA. The weather was awesome and it was a perfect day. Jess and BQ hosted a party at their bridal house after the rehearsal dinner on Friday night and we all headed over after bbqing, and I got to see so many other friendly faces before the wedding, including Devon, Caitlin and Brett who had gotten to town that day!

Saturday was more of the same - relaxing at the house - exactly what I'd hoped to do the entire time in Mammoth. The wedding was beautiful and the reception was a ton of fun - it was a great wedding! We all had a blast dancing the night away, and then the party continued once we were back to the house - it was so much fun to hang out with Peter too - I haven't seen him in years and we got to catch up, but it made for another late night. A 3am bedtime again...these are not hours I've become accustomed to on the trail!

Sunday was my birthday, and I awoke to the surprise of finding out my Dad flew from Michigan to surprise me and spend the day with me! We went to say goodbye to everyone at the bridal house and then spent the day running the town errands Brett and I never got around to the whole time we were in Mammoth. We also picked up Brett's Dad Jon who arrived in Mammoth earlier than expected, and the four of us went to a late lunch together. My Dad insisted on buying me a new sleeping pad for my bday after learning of my troubles sleeping - how could I say no? After my Dad left to head back home, we went for drinks at Grumpy's across the street from the hotel and caught up with Lai and Johnny who also stayed an extra day. Our trail friend Lunchbox also joined and after he learned it was my birthday was so sweet and ordered a bunch of birthday shots for the table. The night was fun, and it was a crazy day to see my Dad, Brett's Dad, trail friends, and home friends all in one place.

I had hoped to stay in Mammoth one more day, but Jon was ready to hit the trail after traveling to meet us, so we checked out of the hotel the next morning and crossed our fingers that the forecast storm wouldn't dump too much on us before we left. One more thing to do before we left though - Mad had arranged for us to get massages at the local salon for my birthday! I can't imagine a better gift...it was the best hour maybe EVER in my entire life. I REALLY didn't want to hike after that amazing massage! Lai and I also had the chance to get lunch together, which I was so thankful for because I felt like I'd hardly had any time to really talk with her. We had a nice lunch and ordered about 1 of everything on the menu.

I very reluctantly made my way back to the trail. Seeing friends was such a blessing, but it made returning to the trail pretty difficult. I was so tempted to hop in someone's car back to the Bay Area! I'm finally loving it out here on the trail, but I still miss my life at home, and the weekend in Mammoth was a great reminder of just how awesome the people in my life at home are. I'm going to finish this trail, but I'm already excited to get back home.

We only camped at the Red's Meadow campground, which made the transition easier. I also had some cell service and was able to catch up with Jen, who had sent me the most amazing birthday care package ever! We spent the evening at the campground and took a quick hike over to the resort, and on our way saw our first bears of the trail! They were probably about 20 yards away just munching on some plants in a meadow, and couldn't have cared less about us - pretty cool!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Days 63-64, June 18-19 - Wrapping Up the High Sierra

Mile 854 to Large Campsite on Ridge with Fire Pit Mile 873, to Campsite Near River Mile 889

We got an alpine (read: late) start and had a big climb looming. As I was on my way up, I turned a corner and a hiker on his way down pulled over to let me pass. When I did, he said "Wow, you look strong!" Um...best compliment from a stranger ever! Made my day, especially because I wasn't FEELING particularly strong at the time.

Topped Selden Pass in the afternoon and had lunch on top which was fun. Mosquitos ate me alive as I descended, and Brett's shins started bothering him. Starting on the descent from Muir Pass, his shins started hurting and he is developing painful shin splints.

We forded Mono Creek in the afternoon, which in heavy snow years can be a pretty challenging river crossing. Once again, I thanked my lucky stars for the low snow year - the crossing was a little deep (almost up to my thighs), but nothing too dangerous or swift moving. Just a minor pucker factor! We made it halfway up a climb and found a beautiful campsite to spend the evening.

Spent the following morning with Storytime as he joined us after he'd gotten started. We all talked about our plans for Mammoth and made tentative plans to get together in town. After finally getting on the trail, Brett's shin splints started really acting up - I've never seen him move so slowly. Unfortunately, we had no option but to continue on at that point - there were no other options to get off the trail sooner than Mammoth. I wished we'd had one extra day built into our plan - I was worried this was an overuse injury that could potentially turn into a stress fracture, and I was glad we'd have so much time off the trail to recover in Mammoth. Silver Pass took absolutely forever to summit, but it was gorgeous from the top - some really great views.

This is the last night in a tent for a while - so excited for an actual bed!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day 62, June 17 - Halfway Done with California

Middle Fork Kings River Mile 833 to Aspen Meadow Mile 854

For our two month anniversary, the trail was good to me today! 21 miles with a pass also! Today was the last big one, and we made it to the top of Muir by noon and then booked the last 18 miles of the day. It finally feels like we're close to Mammoth, and right now we're only 50 miles away.

Muir Pass was fun - lots of meadows and waterfalls and snowfields on the long climb up - it felt like such a journey to get to the top, including plenty of trail finding and slow moving. We had heard that the descent down the other side could be tough with lots of postholing in snow, but it wasn't too bad, and we got a chance to admire the vistas instead. Brett found Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frogs in a lake on the way down, and was excited about seeing them at that elevation. We had a late lunch which powered us on 3 miles farther than we needed to make up for yesterday's shorter day.

We're entering lower ground than the 10,000 feet we've been frolicking in for the past week, so the air is getting more air! Brett is bummed that this section is coming to an end, and I must admit that the views aren't QUITE as jaw-dropping. Funny though, we've still got half of our time in the Sierra to look forward to! We'll be in Yosemite and Tahoe soon enough, and that feels like the Bay's backyard - we've practically hiked home! We passed the 1/2 way point of California today, it's really crazy how the miles really do start to just fly by. 400 miles ago seems like yesterday.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Day 61, June 16 - Chugalug to Mammoth and Reflections on 2 Months

Lake Palisade Mile 819 to Middle Fork Kings River Mile 833

Rough day for me - I couldn't ever kick it in to drive after a really tough 3 mile descent on something called the Golden Staircase that took almost as many hours, which is awful mentally. It's weird, in this amazingly unreal beautiful place, I felt lonely. Everything is so grandiose and beautiful, it makes me feel so tiny and insignificant being so far removed from the real world, hiking among 14,000 foot mountains. I think 12 days is just too long for me to go without a town stop. Most hikers went to Bishop, and I think that would have rejuvenated my spirits. All day, I only saw 2 other NorthBound hikers, and only one was a PCT hiker. Being so disconnected is weird and challenging.  I know I should (and I want to) embrace where I am and enjoy every second, but I can't think about anything but getting to Mammoth. While it's great to have something to look forward to, I think it's also been slightly detrimental as well. I literally fantasize about being there - with friends, eating, drinking, lounging, hot tubbing, etc. all day, every day.

I just didn't really feel like hiking today. My legs were sore from yesterday's push, my head was hurting, the terrain was challenging - it was hard to get excited about hiking the next four days. I feel guilty I didn't appreciate where we are, because this place is nothing short of magical. Sometimes, though, I wish I could appreciate it from the comfort of a camp chair with friends by my side!

We had a long lunch, and I took a nap to try and muster energy for the evening. I felt much better afterward. Soon though, afternoon clouds started building and Brett suggested the possibility of making camp earlier than planned. After my rough day, I couldn't say no! We stopped about a mile and a half short of where we intended to go, but got set up right as it started raining. Our campsite was as awesome as everywhere else in Kings Canyon National Park seems to be, and we're right on a river. There was a deer lounging in the campsite when we arrived, and she kept coming back to see if we'd left - I think she was annoyed we took her flat spot. There are so many deer here, and they're so different from deer at home - they're completely unafraid of humans! It's funny how close you can get before they scoot off. Even then, they often seem more annoyed about moving than afraid.

I can't believe tomorrow will mark 2 months that we've been on the trail. I can't believe I've hiked over 800 miles - there have been times I thought I couldn't. Brett amazes me more and more, while still managing to make me crazy sometimes too (my trail name may be Smiles, but I think my Indian name is Rolls Her Eyes). We've made a pretty good team - our decision making and general trail attitude, as a team, is pretty fantastic, and I'm happy we've been able to make decisions together that we're both happy with. It's fun to be having fun out here, too! Took long enough! Trail life is finally feeling more like real life - and it's a pretty simple life.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Day 60, June 15 - Two Passes, One Day

Woods Creek Mile 802.6 to Lake Palisade Mile 819

Today didn't start very well but got better and ended just fine. I stupidly took all of my vitamins and pain killers on an empty stomach and then got super nauseous and tried to eat to settle my stomach. That didn't work, and I wound up running out of the tent to throw up the blueberry NutriGrain bar I'd just started eating - needless to say, I'll be taking a break from those for quite a while. I had a little bit of a meltdown when Brett started taking down the tent before I was ready to go. Oh well - rough mornings happen.

Our plan was to complete two big passes in one day so starting the day by throwing up wasn't a good start. However, we reached the top of Pinchot Pass by 11:30! We bumped into Grady (Fun Size) who had organized a group printing rate for the maps we've used on the trail, and we haven't seen since before Paradise Cafe at mile 150. We also met a few new friends who just started the trail from Kennedy Meadows, Tom and Annette from Montana (I think Montana...?)  We cruised a few more miles and then had a leisurely lunch and did a little laundry by the river. Life felt relaxed, and it was good. 

We kept pushing on to Mather Pass, and if I do say so myself, I kicked butt to the top of it! I passed a handful of people on the way up, and I do believe sweet Brett held back a little and let me think I actually beat him up there as well (impossible, I know!) I felt good, and strong. I'm usually the turtle of the younger thru-hikers, (which I partially attribute to my short legs), so it felt good to be the first one somewhere. That never happens!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Day 59, June 14 - Highs and Lows on Glenn Pass

Vidette Meadow/Bubbs Creek Mile 786 to Woods Creek Mile 803

We lingered in camp enjoying our surroundings and cooked up oatmeal and a mocha on a wood fire. It's such a relief to finally feel like I'm out enjoying a backpacking trip! No stressful mornings with breakfast on the go to beat the 100 degree heat. I'm loving it.

Until Mammoth, we'll be crossing at least one High Sierra Pass each day, and today's was Glen Pass - purported to be the scariest and potentially most dangerous of them all. The pass was only 4 miles from our campsite but the going was slow getting there. After yesterday, today was a breeze though - I felt like a pro after someone going the opposite direction complained about the arduous climb that I hadn't really even struggled with! The climb up Glen Pass was very steep but it went fast, and I was on top in no time. I'm so thankful for a low snow year - going down the back side is typically a harrowing endeavor, but it was a breeze for us. We donned our microspikes for the beginning of the descent through the remaining snow fields, but didn't need them for too long. I felt like a true adventurer clomping through the snow with my crampons on my feet and snow baskets on my trekking poles.

We descended to Rae Lakes which is apparently a popular summer weekend destination. Our hike included an accidental detour due to a wrong turn, which added a few miles to our day. The wrong turn put me in a funk, and it felt like that flat hiking to get past Rae Lakes would never end. We finally sat down to have lunch at 3, and at that point we'd only gone 8 trail miles the whole day. It was a frustrating afternoon, and I cried my first tears of the Sierra - darn! I thought those days were over. We finally got going again, and thankfully the afternoon went better than the morning. We crossed over an awesome suspension bridge, and mile 800 and made it to mile 802.6 - still on track to make it to Mammoth!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Days 56-58, June 11-13 -The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

Trailside Mile 727 to Trailside Meadow Mile 747 to Wallace Creek Mile 770 to Vidette Meadows/Bubbs Creek Mile 786

Our first days in the Sierra have been some seriously high mileage days. After Monday's long day, it took a while to get going Tuesday morning/we never really did. Enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in (no fear of heat to set alarms for 4am!) and then enjoyed a long breakfast while taking in the amazing views from just down the trail. There were a few big climbs and then we took a break at the top - where we were sitting overlooking the desert to the east from 11,000 feet up. The nearby China Lake Naval Air Station was running aircraft drills all day and some of them got up close and personal. It took me back to the rooftop Fleet Week airshow parties at my old apartment in San Francisco, and I felt like we were now getting a private show on top of a mountain as the planes roared by. We'd hoped to make it to mile 750 by days end to Chicken Spring Lake, but due to our sluggish start, only got as far as a lovely little meadow near a spring. Not a bad campsite!

We got an early start the following morning as we hoped to make it to Guitar Lake as a base camp for our ascent of Mt. Whitney. The hiking was unreal - the scenery went from beautiful to just absolutely jaw-dropping. Really, breathtaking. We stopped for lunch with Viking at the bottom of a descent right on a river, with huge trees surrounding the flat campsite in all directions, and a quaint meadow on the other side of the river. As we ate lunch, Brett and I finally actually looked at the mileage and elevation profiles for the section we were still beginning. (We'd forgotten to have our maps sent for this section...oops. Viking let us look at his during lunch.) We realized it was time to hatch a new plan, because our current one was untenable. Sadly, we came to the conclusion that it would be impossible to get to Mammoth in time for the wedding unless we postponed our Mt. Whitney ascent. Not ideal, but it was the only viable option unless we wanted to skip 70 miles of trail and leave the Sierra at Bishop Pass. I was so disappointed, because really, when are you ever at a point in your life when you can just casually climb to the top of the highest point in the contiguous United States?! We're hoping to rent a car later and drive back to climb it. Skipping Whitney meant we'd start crossing the High Sierra passes a day earlier than expected - Forester Pass is the first and highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. We needed to get at least 4-6 miles more in order to be in good position to tackle the pass the following morning. (It's important to go over the passes in the a.m. when the snow is still frozen enough that you have less chance of postholing all the way down.) By the end of the day, I was so tired I couldn't even appreciate our surroundings. I was also still really bummed about Mt. Whitney, and even though it's not actually part of the trail, I felt guilty skipping it. Barely made it to camp by dark, and passed out quickly!

The following day, we successfully completed Forester Pass! It was pretty darn steep, and there were a few nervous moments, but all in all, it wasn't too bad. We yelped at the top and took a few pictures. Brett also got a call from his former boss asking if he'd be interested in working with her on a project when he returns - not a bad place to get a job offer! We had lunch by an alpine lake and then hiked another 6 miles more through amazing meadows in a huge valley. The views were spectacular and I felt like I was in a dream world - it was so beautiful it didn't feel real. We could have gone another few miles, but decided instead to take the evening off and make camp early. What a treat! Got camp set up by 6ish and enjoyed the Bubbs(ling) Creek and huge trees that we called home for the night, with giant granite walls surrounding us bathed in alpenglow. These are places I can hardly believe exist.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Day 55, June 10 - We're Here!

Kennedy Meadows Campsite Mile 704 to Trailside Mile 727

It's official - I <3 the mountains! And I can now say without any hesitation that I absolutely love this trail! Today was a great day.

We hiked with the Wolfpack for the first 15 miles or so and had a ton of fun experiencing the change of scenery together. (I'm hoping we may have passed our last cactus of the trail today!) At the end of the day, we climbed over 5,000 feet, and almost climbed to 11,000 feet at the highest point of the day - and I feel great! How odd. Our surroundings were green, there were trees everywhere, the temperature was perfect, and all were happy in our idyllic little world. After the first big climb, we turned a corner to find ourselves entering a huge, picture perfect meadow with a mountainous backdrop surrounding the scene. Everyone started cheering and we shared a moment of awe appreciating where we were. We stopped for lunch at a meadow where the trail crossed the Kern, and there were about 10 other hikers also stopped enjoying the suddenly lush trail. All this seemed all the more special because of what we endured and persevered through to get here - we earned this beauty!

Unfortunately, after lunch, Brett and I had to leave the rest of the Wolfpack behind - they planned on taking it slow and acclimating gradually to our new elevation, and we needed to average close to 20 miles/day in order to make it to Mammoth in time (arriving a day late was absolutely not an option!) Our guidebook said to not expect to do more than 10-17 miles/day in the High Sierra, so I was a little concerned what we were about to get ourselves into - darn that trail magic that was too hard to leave behind a few days ago! On our first day in the Sierra, we managed to pump out almost 23 though, which I'm pretty excited about. It was hard to leave everyone behind, but I'm sure we'll all be together again soon. And maybe we'll catch up with Lunchbox, Viking or Gummy Bear.

I am already SO much happier not being in the desert, and feeling very much stronger/fitter/more bad@$$ than I have in years! These fun times are only going to get better to boot. Yep, just another Monday in the ole "office."

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Days 52-54, June 7-9 - Kennedy Meadows at Long Last

Trailside Mile 680 to 703, Kennedy Meadows! 0 at Kennedy Meadows

Well folks, I arrived! Can't believe I finally made it to Kennedy Meadows, mile 700, the beginning of the Sierra Nevada, and everything all hikers have been fantasizing about for the past month and a half. There was some time when I was definitely not sure if I'd make it this far, so I am insanely proud of myself for actually making it - I don't think I've ever proclaimed such pride in an accomplishment before either! What a great feeling this is.

Yesterday we braved the heat and hiked in to KM. At the end of the last climb before KM, we reached a saddle and looked out at our very first view of the Sierra Nevada. It was a pretty special feeling to look out and see where we've hiked to, and where we will be hiking through in the next weeks. I shed a few tears (of joy, pride, accomplishment, relief) and then took some time to soak it all in. I did the same thing a few miles later when we hit mile 700, which is recognized by hikers as THE end of the desert.

I still can't believe I walked 700 miles from Mexico on my own two feet. Reflecting on the trail, I remember some of the lows and the many moments of uncertainty that I would be physically or mentally capable of continuing on. I'm so happy I did, and I'm feeling more optimistic than ever that I'll be finishing this trek in just a few short months!

We spent a few days hanging around Kennedy Meadows with a major crew of hikers rolling in and taking off consistently. The mood was electric - everyone was happy to have arrived, excited for what was to come, and in need of some time to hang out. The Kennedy Meadows General Store and cafe are just about the only things in town, and we were all allowed to set up our tents around the property. Most of us whiled away a few days on the patio eating and drinking and socializing. Life was sweet, and the crown jewel of the hike was about to start.

Amidst the casual days in which we didn't think about time or life outside of our hiker life bubble, Slosh and I realized we had less than two weeks until we were due to arrive in Mammoth for our good friends' wedding. We had a house reserved with some of our best friends for a long weekend and somewhat of a mini-high school reunion for me. While we'd considered taking two full zero days before leaving KM, we realized that wasn't a luxury we had, and knew it would be important to hit the trail on Sunday. We hoped to hike the Sierra with our friends and not get ahead of everyone, so we all left KM Sunday afternoon and only planned to go a few miles to the campground outside of town - sometimes the most important thing is just to remove yourself from the temptations of town, so even getting a few miles in is an accomplishment! We all set up camp and Scones and Doodles arrived as well. We had dinner together, chatted about our expectations of the Sierra Nevada, and got to bed early in anticipation of the amazing journey ahead!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Day 51, June 6 - Desert's Last Stand

Mile 656 to Trailside Mile 680

Even though we were only 2.5 days from the Kennedy Meadows promised land, we started the day in a total funk. It took forever to really get moving, and by the time we did, it was too hot. We wanted to make it to mile 670 for water and lunch, but we were so slow we didn't make it until almost 3 - after untold number of breaks and my feeling like I was overheating all day. We finally got to the water and there was nowhere good to take a break, but we found some shade with Happy Hour and Squeaks to relax for a few hours.

We tackled the days really big climb after lunch and rocked it, which was a nice way to end the day. We didn't leave ourselves much daylight though, so we didn't make it to the goal mile of 681, but we did get close. Just a little over 20 to Kennedy Meadows, so we're hoping for an early start tomorrow and to be hanging out at the cafe and general store by tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day 50, June 5 - Near0 at Walker Pass Trail Magic

Near0 at Walker Pass to Mile 656 Trail Camp

The decision to stay in camp for a near0 instead of hiking on was an easy one, especially because we expected the rest of the Wolfpack to show up. Started the day with morning pancakes, which were amazing! I'm not usually one for sweets in the morning, but ever since Casa de Luna pancakes and syrup, there's been a little corner of my hiker hunger especially devoted to those tasty treats, and I ate 3, sans guilt!

We did laundry down the road in an old trough and then hung out most of the day, which was perhaps a bit of a mistake. I started feeling weird hanging around for so long, especially so close to Kennedy Meadows - I was so ready to be gone and on my way to KM, but I just couldn't bear the thought of actually hiking out and doing the work to get myself there. Lunchbox scored a ride from Aloha straight to KM, and it took every fiber of my being not to hop in the car with them. I knew I'd regret skipping 50 miles, but the thought of relaxing for a few days before everyone else arrived was SO tempting. Instead, I spent the day with Chik Chak talking about the trail, life, and everything else.

We hit the trail after dinner because we knew an early morning departure would probably turn into another day at the campground. We made it a little farther than expected, which put us a mere 46 miles from Kennedy Meadows and in good shape to arrive by the 8th. Hooray!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 49, June 4 - Trail Magic is Magical!

Mile 627 to Mile 652, Walker Pass

7 weeks on trail! I can't believe this crazy journey has come so far. And we are finally in spitting distance to Kennedy Meadows - I can't remember the last time I was so excited to move on to a new chapter!

Once again, I didn't sleep a wink last night. Well, not until 3am - and alarms went off at 3:30. Awful. I snoozed for a while (it seems the only time I CAN sleep these days is when I definitely shouldn't be sleeping...sigh) Hit the trail by 5am, which isn't too bad, and managed to catch an absolutely magnificent sunrise - one of our last in the desert! It was nice to be reminded of the beauty here, especially towards the end. The cache at mile 631is the last water source for at least 33 miles, and is maintained by the same trail angel who stocks the previous cache. Without these two caches, there would be a stretch of well over 50 miles without water on trail. Everyone who provides trail magic is an angel in my book, but the woman who maintains these two caches is probably the most important and unsung hero of the trail. As we arrived, Trail Angel Mary pulled up in her blue pickup truck to do her daily restocking of the cache. This woman defines angel - she's probably in her 80s, lives in the middle of the desert, and singlehandedly maintains both caches during hiker season from the well on her property - shuttling over 100 gallons of water to the trail every day during hiker season. We helped her unload crates of gallons to the trail and tie them such that once drained, empty bottles won't blow away. The crates are heavy - I could hardly carry them - but this is Mary's daily routine for months of the year! She told me that she has sleepless nights worrying about hikers out in the desert without enough water. This section would have been incredibly challenging without Mary's help. I'm consistently amazed by the generosity of strangers on this trip.

We hustled to the top of the mountain after filling water bottles and the climb was refreshingly easy! I hustled my short legs up that mountain with the fear of heat in me, and I was on top before I knew it! We cruised through pines and forest the rest of the day. Took a lunch break under some shade and LunchBox caught up to us, on track for a 30 mile day to Walker Pass! We wanted to make it to Walker Pass before dark, because rumor had it there was the possibility of trail angels and root beer floats. Imagine my surprise when I rounded the last corner to see a cluster of tents in the campground filled with people providing more trail magic! The one and only Yogi of hiker fame - she is the author of our guidebooks - and a handful of others including Jackelope and others served us cold drinks and cooked dinner for the dozen or so hikers who arrived as well. I went to bed with a full stomach and the knowledge that I'm only 50 miles shy of the Sierra Nevada. Life is good!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 48, June 3 - Refuge Under the Joshua Tree

Landers Camp, Mile 609 to Trailside Mile 627

Landers Camp was so lovely, and we were so comfortable under the pines, we forgot we were still technically in the desert and slacked on the waking up portion of the day. It felt so mountainous, it was hard to remind myself that would soon change. But change it did! We only made it 7 miles before hitting a water cache that marks the beginning of a very long, exceedingly dry section. We were in the middle of some of the most barren desert we've seen yet. It was only 10am, but we had to seek shade under the solitary Joshua Tree in sight with Viking. Soon, the Wolfpack arrived, and all of us spent the entire day curled up under the minimal shade of the spindly tree. Surprisingly, it was a really fun day - perhaps because our tired bodies and brains were heat addled - but whatever. We set up tarps for shade, and passed around the Jameson from my last care package - just enough for everyone to have a little nip!

During the hottest part of the day, two ladies and a dog drove up the dirt road in a van and were dropped off at the cache. It was clear off the bat that they weren't thru-hikers, as the first thing they did was fill every last one of their water bottles with water from the cache, and then washed down their dog - a serious no-no considering they'd clearly come from civilization (and water!) They packed up and then got ready to hike in the middle of the hottest part of the day, in an area with absolutely no shade. It was well over 100. We were all confused and a little annoyed by the selfishness of using SO much of the limited cache supply when they'd just arrived from town to trail. Hours later when we finally started hiking again, we ran into the mom no more than a mile down the trail and she seemed to be showing signs of heat exhaustion. She was already exhausted and I checked in with her to ensure she had enough water and recommended she get under some shade. I felt bad leaving her but thought it more important to catch up with her daughter and dog and send them back. When we caught up with her daughter, she didn't seem too concerned, but when I asked her if she had a water report (fairly essential guide on how/where to find water on the trail) she looked at me with a blank stare and just replied that she had the Halfmile map. Lighthouse was able to convince her to turn back, and I think was successful in convincing them this wasn't the best section to start your hike in. None of us are sure how or why they decided to attempt a section hike where they did, especially when we're so close to the Sierra, but we do know they were seriously underprepared and it was nerve wracking to see people try and set out in such conditions. This portion of the desert is incredibly remote, so they certainly didn't wind up here on accident. The whole experience was unsettling, as it reminded me of just how easily things could go wrong out here, and the sheer brutality of the place we're hiking through right now. Any of us are just one wrong turn away from serious trouble, so it was a good reminder of how important it is to remain vigilant in these kinds of conditions. It also reminded me of how much I've learned the last month and a half, and how far we've all come.

After much debate, the Wolfpack decided to only hike 6-10 miles more instead of the full 15 to the next cache. I was just hoping to get as far as possible - the plan was to hike until I couldn't hike anymore. I was so tempted to stay with everyone at a nice flat spot we found about 5 miles past the Joshua Tree, but knew I'd regret it if not - a huge climb is looming tomorrow, and I wanted to get as close as possible in hopes of completing it before the heat sets in.  Managed to make it about 6 miles farther, then had a quick dinner and set alarms for a mere 5 hours later to get up and do it over again!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Days 42-47, May 28-June 2 - Sleepless Nights for 100 Miles

Sleep was hard to come by at the Sawmill Campground - the nice cool breeze we'd enjoyed during the day turned to a full on windstorm at night, and we spent the night continually re-pitching the poor tent, which kept collapsing in the gusts. We had to restake the tent at least 5 times throughout the night, and then woke up to a rainy and dreary morning - a definite change! The day was long and chilly, but passing mile 500 felt great. All milestones are exciting, but 500 seems like the first really legitimate big deal. I can't believe I've WALKED 500 miles - it's hard to wrap my mind around! 

After hiking the dreary day through a creepy desert hunting club (seriously), we made it to mile 518 and a strange little place called Hiker Town. Oh...Hiker Town...what a place. After Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna, this place was a little bit of a shock to the system. It didn't help that we showed up right around dusk and there were about 30 people there ahead of us already. Hikertown is an old western style "town" built right next to the highway, with small buildings designed to resemble a saloon, schoolhouse, general store, etc. on the facade. Inside, they're bunks available to rent out for the night for a suggested donation of $10. I think it would be a fun, cheeky place to stay at times, but when we arrived the place was bursting at the seams with hikers and the proprietors seemed a little overwhelmed.  We originally planned on continuing on, but after our lack of sleep the night before, were deterred by the weather forecast which predicted continued wind storms with gusts up to 80mph. The owner allowed us to roll out our sleeping bags in the garage, where we decided to stay with Games and Reason. (They'd decided that the lodging they'd been offered on the other side of highway was just a bit too dodgy after noticing the plethora of "No Trespassing" signs and the use of a rock to jimmy open the side of a barn.) Joining us in the garage was a dog, who apparently doesn't like the wind, because he howled ALL NIGHT LONG. Coupled with the wind slamming the aging garage door against its metal rails continuously throughout the night, and we literally got absolutely no sleep...for the second night in a row! I finally started to drift off sometime around 4am, but the roosters on the property started crowing and actually pecking on the garage door sometime around 4:45. It was an awful nights sleep, and a fairly creepy place to wait out the howling windstorm, but I couldn't help but crack up as we packed up and hightailed it out of there by 5am for fear we'd otherwise be asked for our $10/person "donation" for the night's "rest." 

I didn't mind getting an early start, because day 43 was aqueduct day! For some reason, I was really excited about the prospect of walking for miles and miles across the sweet, flat aqueduct. It seemed like such a fun change of scenery, and as we walked on and on I couldn't help but marvel at the feats of civil engineering to carry ALL THAT WATER to Southern California. Maybe I was just drunk off the sight of that water! And, did I mention it was flat?! We even walked on concrete for a few miles.  I loved the aqueduct...for about an hour. Then the novelty wore off, and I was walking in the exposed desert in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and it felt like it went on forever. We finally made it to a cache under a bridge at mile 535, where we caught back up to the Wolfpack! It was so good to see everyone, and it turned out we'd barely missed them at Hikertown the previous evening. After waiting out the heat of the day, we took off for camp at Tyler Horse Canyon at mile 541 - only 6 miles to the end of the day! The last 6 miles went directly through a gigantic wind farm - wind mills that went on and on as if forever.  It almost felt apocalyptic, like the only things left on the earth were wind mills and a few straggly hikers. Turns out, those wind mills are there for a reason - it was incredibly windy, and there were a few moments when it literally took all my effort to just stay on my feet. It was exhausting but funny - we laughed as we had to practically throw our bodies forward to get one step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the wind didn't die down, and we had another awful night's rest. We were cowboy camping (no tent) and the sand whipped across my slightly burned face all night. So frustrating. When you're putting your body through the daily rigors of a thru-hike, sleep is the magical solution to so many problems. Somehow, you can go to bed dog tired every night sore and in pain, but wake up the following morning after a good night's rest and be ready to go out and do it all over again. A night's sleep is a terrible thing to waste out here, and I felt absolutely awful after 3 nights of no sleep.  (What are the odds the only time in my life I'd have trouble sleeping is when I'm more exhausted than ever?!)

We didn't plan on taking a zero in Mojave, so we left camp early to complete the last 17 miles to town early enough to leave time for chores. The hike was brutal - I'd cut holes in the top of my too-small-shoes to try and give my toes a little extra room up front, but then we returned to super sandy trail. You can imagine how that felt as it filled my shoes with every step. But there was trail magic waiting when we arrived at the road! Coppertone was on site with his camper passing out root beer floats - a little taste of heaven! 

A nice trail angel named Doug drove the 10 miles to pick us up and drive us in to Mojave...which the guide book had recommended over Tehachapi as the "less awful" of the two options. To put it lightly, there's not much for thru-hikers in Mojave. Our hotel was directly across the street (highway) from a train switchyard, and our dining options included fast food, Denny's, or El Jefe Mexican and Pizza (which we visited twice during  our slightly more than 24 hours in town). Mojave was great for actually taking care of chores and relaxing though - fewer distractions! I caught up with family and had a surprise package waiting from my Mom - stocked with cookies, candy, chips and a little Irish whiskey! Amazing. 

We waited out the heat of the day in Mojave the following day and then got back to the trail around 8pm, after trail angel Doug and his equally kind wife Suzy picked us up and brought us back to the trail. We only hiked about a mile and a half - now that is a serious near0! The following morning, we hit the trail by 7, but it wasn't nearly early enough - it was one of the hottest days we've had yet, and we were boiling almost immediately, with a 2500 ft climb looming. The hiking wasn't the prettiest we've seen, and the wind mills continued - I'm ready to be done with the wind mills! We had a late lunch with Sunshine, Dance Party, Buff, Boulder, Scooter, Lighthouse, and Viking. I was tempted to stay at the nice shady spring to wait for the Wolfpack, but given how hot it had been and the fact that they'd taken a full zero the day before in Tehachapi, we weren't sure if they'd catch up. We hiked on to 586 and found a nice flat camping spot. I took a Tylenol PM, which I'd picked up in town - wasn't prepared to deal with another sleepless night! I don't even think I moved until the alarm went off at 4am!

Today proved as hot as yesterday, but the hiking was so much more enjoyable. We tackled the day's big climb first thing in the morning before it was too hot, and then had a nice break underneath the shade of - wait for it - pine trees! We talked about the summer and our plans that are suddenly feeling very soon. I realized we'll be in Mammoth in 2.5 weeks! I couldn't be more excited. In all the excitement, we also crossed mile 600! Only 2,000 left to Canada! Made it to mile 609 at Landers Camp and set up camp underneath huge pine trees in the middle of a field. I feel like we're finally getting close to the mountains, and they are calling!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Day 41 - Escaping the Casa de Luna Vortex on Memorial Day

Mie 478, Casa de Luna to Mile 498, SawMill Campground

Shockingly, the Wolfpack made it out of Casa de Luna and on to the trail by 9am, and even managed to sneak in one final pancake breakfast! I never wanted to leave but it was time to get back to work. The day's hike was fairly uneventful and we decided to make camp just a few miles shy of mile 500, so we'll have the excitement of our first huge mile marker tomorrow morning! 

Today is Memorial Day, so it was weird to be out hiking the trail and essentially getting "back to work" after our extended play time at Hiker Heaven and Casa de Luna. I thought about what I'd be doing if we were at home, and got a little homesick imagining the lakeside bbqs I was undoubtedly missing. Last Memorial Day we spent the whole day hiking then picnic-ing and relaxing in Redwood Park, and I spent some time reminiscing and thinking about how much has changed in one year. I definitely didn't realize then that I'd be almost 500 miles into the adventure of a lifetime at that point!

We stopped for lunch near a water cache at mile 486 under the shade of some large oak trees and relaxed for a while as Sensai, Starfox and Focus all joined us. After mustering the energy to continue on, we rounded the corner to find Aloha near the road with Dr. Pepper and Doritos to offer. Such a nice guy, and an awesome surprise after just leaving a trail angel's house that morning!

Lastly, it turns out that Dr. Slosh is not ACTUALLY immune to any/all trail problems afterall - he has started having some problems with his feet. With only 2 miles left to camp, he was hobbling so slowly I wasn't sure if we'd make it. We arrived before sunset and set up camp - everyone came to our site to eat and discuss plans for the following days. The rest of the Wolfpack decided to shoot for an early morning wakeup to hustle quickly to Mojave/Tehachapi, our next resupply point. Everyone but us is expecting packages in Tehachapi, whereas we'll need to go to Mojave for our bounce box and resupply from the post office. I promised to set my alarm for 5am, but also knew the chances of turning it off promptly were pretty high. We'll see how various injuries and feet feel in the morning!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Days 37-40, Hiker Heaven, Casa de Luna, and the Generosity of Strangers

Acton KOA, mile 444 to Hiker Heaven, mile 454 to Casa de Luna, mile 478

The horde of hikers occupying the KOA all hit the trail early the following morning in pursuit of Hiker Heaven in Agua Dulce, a small ranch town near Lancaster. By 5a.m. most of us were on the trail in hopes of securing a space at the Saufley's house - they set up a camp in their yard for hikers with cots, and rumor had it only have space for 50 hikers each night.

The 10 miles flew by - always a pleasant surprise! We passed the Vazquez rocks which seemed like a Hollywood movie set (pictures to follow) but are just a really awesome geological formation of rocks that we crossed right through. As we entered Agua Dulce, I was surprised by how charming the town was...I'd expected desert desolation, but instead found a thriving small community with a fully stocked grocery store, a tasty bakery, and a local bbq joint with a huge sign welcoming thru-hikers to the community and also advertising all you can eat ribs. We've encountered a fair bit of trail magic to date, but we were in for a treat at Hiker Heaven...not much could have prepared me for what we found when we arrived at the Saufley's! As we arrived, a volunteer (previous thru-hiker) welcomed us to the house and gave us the grand tour - which included our pick of any of the cots set up under cabanas throughout the large and shady backyard, an entire wardrobe of loaner clothes to wear while our laundry was washed and folded for us in the garage, a full service mail station for receiving and sending packages, 5 computers set up for hiker use, a foot bath station equipped with endless supplies of epsom salts, a daily shuttle in a rented 15 passenger van to the REI 60 miles away should hikers need gear or supplies, a trailer with the designated bathroom for showers with every imaginable toiletry at our disposal, a kitchen in the trailer for cooking real food if hikers chose not to go to town, a living room with a TV and DVD/VCR and a library of classic movies, a stable of loaner bicycles to pedal into town a mile away, and to top it all off, a giant fire pit in the middle of the yard with hay bales circles around for socializing in the evening. There's really no end to what these amazing trail angels didn't think of when imagining comforts for hikers on the move. I still can't get over their generosity, particularly when I asked Donna Saufley where I could donate for my night's rest and her response was "All of you hikers are the same - so appreciative and insistent on donations!" I finally found the donation jar tucked in the back of the garage above the laundry machine...which hikers wouldn't find themselves near, naturally, because our laundry is handled for us! Needless to say, she's a pretty special lady.

I would have liked to stay at Hiker Heaven for a couple days, but only 24 miles down the trail lay the promise of good times at Casa de Luna, ANOTHER trail angel house that hosts hikers. The group decided we'd spend two near-0s at Hiker Heaven and then push on to Casa de Luna on the evening of our second day after waiting out the heat. We spent the day relaxing and making new friends, and all went to the bakery the next morning for tasty breakfast treats. The goal was for a late afternoon start but we wound up sitting around a table finishing off a few leftover beers from the night before and playing rotating dj with Chik Chak's portable speaker and our new friend Lunchbox's seemingly endless iTunes library. We FINALLY got going at 9pm - when Lunchbox was able to secure a ride to the trail for us, while simultaneously dubbing the group "the Wolfpack" which he also officially joined. We started our hike by 10, complete with a few group howlings at the moon - things are getting weird out here on the trail! We made it about halfway to the Anderson's (Casa de Luna) before calling it a night and deciding for an early start in the morning.

The following morning we hit the trail early and had a fun, social hike in. The Anderson's stock the Oasis Cache, where we met up with even more new friends (Games, Reason, and Sunset) and found that not only was it stocked with water but also beer! We were all excited for the fun times to come. The hike to Casa de Luna is about 2 miles from the trail, but as we descended, we saw a van sitting waiting to shuttle hikers - what luck! As we pulled up to the house in Green Valley, we saw an entire front yard filled with other hikers decked out in garish Hawaiian shirts drinking beer (this was around 11am), a huge sign that said Casa de Luna, and another sign above the garage that said "Hippie Day Care"...by the time the van pulled up, everyone had started a slow clap that erupted into a full on cheering reception as we arrived. What an entrance! We were led to the backyard and entered what can only be described as a manzanita forest that seemed to go on forever in every which way, with small camping spots flattened out for campers in every nook and cranny. We were told to throw our stuff wherever looked good to us and then choose from a selection of Hawaiian shirts and join the crowd whenever we wanted. Our time there was more fun than we'd even expected or been promised, as we whiled away a few days eating, drinking, dancing, and lounging. We also caught up with some long lost friends! Marshall and Christian (now Burrito Grande) who we started with were also stuck in the Casa de Luna vortex, and on our second evening, Nancy and Joe from Oakland arrived after a short break from the trail! Brett busted out his best moves on the dance floor, prompting some to rename him DJ Slosh. Sour Cream ate more taco salad than I thought was possible and also promised to try and finish the trail instead of his original plan to head home to Canada after the Sierra. The whole time there was so great - unapologetically gluttonous and wonderful.

It's hard to fully explain the magic of trail angels and their generosity, but I think this is the closest I can get...it was a magical few days and a much needed break from the rigors of the trail. The relaxation and orderly charm of Hiker Heaven followed by the party at Casa de Luna have been some of the best moments of the trip so far. I'm so grateful places like this exist to make our journey a little bit easier and a lot more fun. I feel so rested and recharged - and ready to push on! I can't believe we'll hit mile 500 so soon. Next thing you know I'll be marching towards 1000!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 36, May 22 Fun Times at the KOA

Believe it or not, today marked the second day in a row with a successful early wakeup and camp break! We're getting good at this - but I STILL think it's funny to set alarms hours earlier than I ever did when I actually had a job and real responsibilities. It was easy to get out of bed knowing we had a short day ahead of us, if you can call 17 miles short, I suppose!

The poodle bush was worse than yesterday, and the early morning climb made me cranky. I continue to look forward to making instant coffee a regular part of life! The boys hiked ahead and I pulled up the rear. We pumped out the first 9 miles in what seemed like the blink of an eye, and the hiking was really beautiful which made it quite pleasant. We were collecting more water at mile 436 by 10:15am! After a short break, we struck out for the final 8 to the KOA, which wound up being unexpectedly difficult, especially after incorrectly assuming it would all be downhill. It was completely exposed hiking, super feo, and too hot; no surprise I wasn't very happy hiking. Sour Cream scooted ahead - oh, to be 20 again! - while I trudged on in the heat with Dr. Slosh. I needed someone for snake patrol and moral support! After 4 long miles we hit the valley floor where I expected we'd stay, so imagine my surprise when I saw we still had over 1500 miles of climbing in that exposed desert ahead of us. Took some time off under one of the few trees to cool off and enjoy the little shade to be had. Brett handles the heat better than me, and helped with ways to stay cool - including alternating soaking bandanas on my head and around my neck.

Finally, we made it to the KOA around 2 - such a weird, interesting place. I remember camping at KOAs a few times when I was younger, but this one was a bizarre place to be - they are essentially RV camp grounds. I think most people at this one live there at least part time. I couldn't help but wonder why, if you literally have a mobile home, you'd select this particular KOA to decide to park at. As we walked in we passed by what may or may not have been the area's actual dump. There were all kinds of interesting finds we climbed over, including my personal favorite which appeared to be a discarded set from a school play. This KOA is also located directly between a highway and train tracks. Anyway, I digress. The KOA was perfect for us - $5 bucks to camp near the basketball courts on the grass with showers, laundry, a pool, and convenience store. We checked in and bought a popsicle and soda - I felt like I was 10 and it was a hot summer day at camp. I inhaled both and followed it with a handful of Fritos - started feeling guilty until I looked around and took in the scene around me - I was literally the only hiker who hadn't consumed at least one personal pint of ice cream. Apparently hiker hunger is setting in.

Headed back to the hiker area, showered, journaled, ordered pizza, and welcomed Rocky, TRex, Carrot, and ChikChak into camp. Had a great night with them and Tingo. I had some time to think about the journey, and still can't believe we've come almost 450 miles. Before we started, that seemed like an eternity to hike. But now, it doesn't seem that far. Not that it doesn't feel like an accomplishment - it definitely does! But it feels like there is still so much more to see and do. I feel like we've barely hit the tip of the iceberg.

Tomorrow, we'll shoot for an early wakeup 3 days in a row, and hopefully beat the heat on the last 10 miles to Hiker Heaven. We all plan on staying the night there and then take off the following day. I think we're still on track to make it to Mammoth by June 20, and that's one of the things that gets me through the hard times. As feared, loneliness is the hardest obstacle to overcome out here. Well, that and the heat. And ascents that go for miles and miles. etc. etc. etc!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Day 35, May 21 Strong Enough

Mile 403.5, Highway 2 to Mile 427, Mountain Ridge

I'm not sure whether or not this makes me a horrible person, but for once it's nice to know that I wasn't the most pained and broken hiker all day! We were all out of our parking lot campsite by 6:30. Angela had given us a Starbucks Via yesterday at lunchtime, so we gave that a shot today - first trail coffee, and boy did it do wonders! Made a mental note to look for single serve instant coffee at the next stop.

The hiking was fine but we accidentally took a wrong turn and wound up walking about a mile in the wrong direction before realizing. After making it back to the trail, we had a 5 mile climb in the rising heat, but we made it up in record time. Maybe not record time, but it wasn't bad either. Took a quick break at the fire road, which looked directly out to Mt. Wilson. It was so weird to be so close yet so far from Pasadena/Sierra Madre. What I wouldn't have done for a Greek salad and grilled cheese from Corfu and a beer at the Buc!

Spent a lot of the morning avoiding the dreaded poodle dog bush we've been hearing about for seemingly years now. Poodle dog bush grows in areas that have recently burned - it's a really pretty bright green plant with purple flowers, but the hairs on the plant can be irritants to skin. They say only about 1 in 20 people are affected by the bush, but you don't want to test and find out if you're one of the ones who IS allergic. Apparently it's much worse than poison oak. I wore my goofy zip off Columbia pants for the first time to provide extra protection - one hiker mentioend that navigating through the bush was like a movie scene with a museum heist...so much to avoid it's like you're trying not to trip the laser wires. I thought that to be a pretty accurate description for our dodging in, out, under and over the bush. Afterwards, we started a walk along the fire road for about 5 miles. Five miles on a jeep road can seem like forever, and I started to get frustrated when I thought it wouldn't ever end. Just when I was about to pull off my pack and take a little break, Sheryl Crow's hit from sometime in the 90s, Strong Enough, hit my iTunes on random. I didn't even know I had that song, but for some reason, it was the perfect tempo/fe-power music to pump me up and motivate me to keep going. Hooray for pump-you-up empowered women/music to keep me going one foot in front of the other. When we finally got to the end of the road walk, there was a fire station with picnic tables and all kinds of other hikers hanging around avoiding the heat. After hiking 16 miles that morning, we were ready to join them!

After lunch, we only had 6 miles to our intended camping spot, a trail camp at mile 424. I told the boys to go ahead without me and that I'd meet them at camp - I didn't want to be holding them up and I assumed they'd beat me by a mile. But, for the first time on this entire trip, I wound up passing other young people! Finally! I've done plenty of flip-flopping with other similarly aged hikers, but this was the first time I actually was hiking significantly faster than others on the trail - I passed a few groups of people. I couldn't believe it, but I also just kept thinking "well, it's about g-d time!" It turned out the supposed camp at mile 424 either didn't exist or we are all blind. We decided to just go ahead and keep on hiking and take the first spot we could find. One of our guidebooks said there'd be another site in about a mile and a half, but we couldn't find THAT one either. It was getting late, and I started getting nervous we'd have to walk all the way to 332 (what that really means is I started getting nervous that all those folks I passed would catch back up!) Luckily, we found a nice flat area at mile 327 and joined Starfox, G-Dub, and Busted for a quick dinner.

Tomorrow, in only 17 miles, we'll all be at the Acton KOA, lounging by the pool, freshly showered, and hanging out before the last 10 miles to Agua Dulce/Hiker Heaven and the official end of Section D. I may finally be getting accustomed to this insane trip!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Day 34, May 20 Another Day, Another Milestone

Mile 384, Little Jimmy Camp to mile 403.5, Highway 2 Crossing

Well, I had the best of intentions when I set the alarm for 5:30. After snoozing and lazing in camp, we didn't leave until after 9. Oh, and that cry that I evaded the day before caught up to me! I just simply didn't want to hike. Obviously, I didn't really have much of an option.

We finally got going and quickly hit the Endangered Species Detour, a reroute of the official trail to accomodate the Mountain Yellow Legged Frog. The new detour loops down, around, up, down, back and forth for TWENTY miles  to avoid the FOUR original PCT miles. We opted for the "old"detour, which is still considered a legal option (legal meaning it's not frowned upon/considered cheating to take the old route). The old reroute includes 3 miles of road walking, but ask this girl if she cares about a nice little detour on a highway and she'll say heck no. We crossed into Buckhorn Camp for lunch at the end of the rouad walked and ran into Rocky, TRex, ChikChak, and Carrot. Unfortunately, they hadn't had the best evening/day since we'd said goodnight yesterday. Carrot got food poisoning, and Rocky got elevation sickness. They decided to call it a day at Buckhorn and hopefully press on in the morning.

We pushed on and caught up to Sour Cream a few miles ahead at a creepy abandoned Boy Scout camp, just after....mile 400! Yep, you read that right, 400 miles! I couldn't believe I've made it so far - I'm proud of that progress in 5 weeks. We all hiked together to mile 404ish. We're basically camping in a day use area parking lot, but we have access to bathrooms (with toilet paper!), picnic tables, and garbage cans! Pure luxury!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Days 32-33, May 18-19 Unexpected Wrightwood Day Zero and Hitting the Trail

Wrightwood Day 0, Leaving Wrightwood mile 369 to Mile 384, Little Jimmy Camp

The plan was to leave Wrightwood Saturday afternoon...but things rarely go according to plan, especially when it comes to leaving town.

Enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the Evergreen Cafe with Rocky, TRex, ChikChak, Sour Cream and Carrot, and then returned to the room to pack up and head out...but then decided we didn't really care to head out! Opted instead to spend a few hours watching Law & Order (we are powerless against this time suck) and take time finishing up final chores, including visiting the library for internet (which proved useless due to a 30 minute time limit that automatically logs you out), the hardware store for stove alcohol, and a few last minute groceries at the local store. I picked up fresh fruit and avocadoes to take on the trail, and kept my fingers crossed that they'd stay good long enough for me to enjoy them.

Team Tingo (Tracy and Ingrid) arrived to town and we went to Mexican with them for dinner and enjoyed a giant margarita with our huge plates of food. Returned home and went to sleep early in hopes of an early departure on Sunday. We were so exhausted we fell asleep with the TV on, and woke up at 6am to the beginnings of a Law & Order marathon - trouble! Once again, our plans were foiled. We didn't check out until we had to at 11. I begrudgingly said my goodbyes to the goofy motel room which I'd already come to love, slanted bathroom walls/floor and all. On the bright side, it was my best town deprature yet - no tears! For now the second time ever, I had to stick up my thumb to get a ride back to the trail. A really sweet woman named Shannon and her daughter Madison turned around for us to drive us all the way back to where they'd just come from. More trail magic - she refused to let me give her gas money - and we were on the trail by around 12:30.

Mt. Baden-Powell loomed ahead - I was tired and not in the groove of hiking yet, so the prospect of climbing to the top wasn't too exciting. At the same time, I grew up not too far from said mountain, and never had the chance to hike to the top - it was fun to feel like the trail was on familiar territory. The first 5 miles loped pretty pleasantly through the trees and meadows, and I popped in my earbuds to enjoy some new music I'd bought in town. Got to the base of Mt. B-P around 3, and started climbing the 4 miles/3,000ft to the top. The trail is a popular hiking area, and all kinds of day hikers were heading down hill at that point. Most of the other girls out there were wearing freshly cleaned Lululemon tops and spandex with full makeup and hair done. I'm sure the looks of me and other thru-hikers were quite the shock to their systems. The dirt just doesn't come out of my clothes anymore...

After hiking through some really beautiful very old gnarled trees, we reached the top, which I imagine has awesome views of the LA area and possibly out to Catalina on a clear day, but the valley was pretty smoggy. We wanted to press on to camp, so snapped a few pictures then headed out. I was feeling good, but poor Dr. Slosh's feet were hurting - he sent me on my way while he attended to his new blisters. I enjoyed the solo hiking and blasted my tunes. Previously, my thoughts when I'm alone tended towards the many other things I could be doing at home - spending time with friends, bbq-ing at the lake, heck, even working! Anything but hiking. But not so today! I just enjoyed the scenery, and the relative lack of internal dialogue was peaceful, if quite unusual. It was officially the first day back on the trail after a town stop that I didn't cry.

Made it to camp around 8 to an awesome reception from the Portland crew and Sour Cream - it made me so happy to have other people happy to see us. Cooked a quick dinner and then headed to sleep in prep for a long day tomorrow.