The PCT – Washington – Days 162 – 169

Day 162: 5.7 miles

Originally I’d told Anthony I would leave on the 0800 shuttle back to Stevens Pass but after eating dinner last night I swiftly changed my mind and decided on the 1100 ride. He took us to town before leaving for the trail and I got a sandwich to go from the deli. Unfortunately the coffee shop closed at 1100 so I didn’t get any caffeine. Skykomish citizens don’t need coffee after 1100 apparently.

I got back on trail about 1230 and was feeling the weight of 6 days worth of food. I had enough to get me to Stehekin where another resupply box waited. The trail wasn’t even hard but I was feeling slow and sluggish. I have a very hard time starting my hiking day after 0900. However I was only going to go a short distance today so I kinda wandered along in a noncommittal daze.

Camp was supposed to be down by Valhalla lake (so I could listen to some Led Zepplin in the proper setting lol), but there were no sites available. I went uphill back to the trail and set up under some lovely pines with the rocky wall of the mountain standing guard to the west. I soon discovered this was a Pika hot spot. Their squeaky meeps echoed throughout the night.

Day 163: 19.3 miles

I woke up ornery and mean. I’m not sure why? I just felt off and it didn’t get better all day. I had some hazey views of Glacier Peak to the north but what was really worrisome were the visible fires and smoke to the east. They weren’t new fires, as the Forest Service had already closed certain trails in the area, but they were uncomfortablely close to the PCT. Or at least it seemed that way to me. At this point though I could only see the smoke, not smell it and the wind was blowing east so I kept going.

All day I was in my head with worry and unease. It was hot and the climbs were tough. Someone left the sun on the Broil setting for some reason. (Who did that?!) I had no eyes for my surroundings I was so very deep in my feelings. At the top of one climb I gave up and sat down for a cry. Letting all of it wash over me without a fight. All the anxiety, the doubts, and the tension surged up through my eyeballs into an ugly cry. A chorus of the same old song Why is everything still so hard? made its rounds through my heart. Eventually the pitiful tears slowed down and I realized that I felt a little looser, infinitesimally gentler. Showing up as your authentic self isn’t always roses and for me that means the letting go on the tight grip of control over the “bad emotions”. Just let them be what they are and process. I was lucky that no one walked by. I managed to have 10 minutes on the trail alone.

After my Big Cry ™️, I put on some distracting podcasts and shuffled to camp…which was full of people. I found a slanty spot that would do and went to wash in the stream. I whimsically thought that maybe the mountain water would wash away my anger and fear along with the sweaty salt and tears. I know that’s illogical and just a little bit naive but I did feel better and fell asleep quite easily.

Day 164: 19.5 miles

I woke up 0230 this morning to the intense smell of smoke but in my sleepiness paid it no heed. When I woke for real it was hazy and the smell had worsened. I got up to the ridgeline and the view from where I came was whited out with smoke. The winds had shifted and now blew the noxious fumes northwest.

I watched as smokey tendrils crept their way up the valley, filling every nook and cranny. It was creepy in way, like a ghostly mist destroying everything in its path. The trail turned down into another valley towards the northwest and was clear of smoke. The sky still had a haze but nothing too worrisome.

There was a never ending climb up and out into a wide expanse of Alpine hillside. Once again I had to stop and have a what is fast becoming a routine afternoon cry. I sat up high on a rocky slope looking down on the pine valley below and just bawled. This time I’m not even sure about what. I just let it happen though and like last time felt simple relief.

The trail obliged afterwards by continuing down into the valley in a gentle manner. Streams the were milky with glacier silt splashed down along the trail and the shaggy bark of the Sitka Cypress welcomed me back into the safety of the canopy. I turned one bend to find two hikers, Caps and Chimney, who I’d been bouncing around. Caps asked if I wanted the bad news, but I couldn’t even hear her over the rush of the creek nearby.

Well apparently the trail after Harts Pass was closed which meant that you couldn’t hike to the border and finish with a picture at the monument. The big goal that everyone had been working towards for months was snatched out of reach. And for me, I felt quite suddenly rudderless. Now I know it’s “all about the journey not the destination” but to be denied the final leg of the trip and the closure of tagging the terminus is the worst.

I’d been wanting to quit for some time now. My hips hurts all the time, I’m not having any fun, and everything is hard, like moving through molasses. The only thing keeping me going was the distant goal of reaching the border. The pride in getting my picture taken at the monument. Now that was gone, what was the point? I couldn’t go back though, that way was covered in smoke. I decided to continue on and end at Rainy Pass, after hitting up Stehekin’s famous bakery for their cinnamon rolls of course.

The PCT’s Class of ’22s motto should be “womp womp”.

Day 165: 16 miles

Well now that I’m not trying to get anywhere fast I decided I’m going to enjoy as much as I can of what’s left. Today made that real real hard. It was all climbing all day. Once at the top the views were socked in by fog and smoke. I stopped early and just flopped into my tent.

Day 166: 18.6 miles

After a mild 2500 foot climb the views opened up and it was actually sunny and nice. I’m reminded that the weather can directly affect your mood, as well as food intake and hydration. It was like I was on a different trail: there was slight comfortable breeze with no hint of smoke, the sun was bright but no overbearing, and the sky was a clear pure blue the contrasted nicely with the green earth. Glacier melt sent streams of icey water everywhere. I could see the trail wind its way through this slope of rocky waters and rich greenery and I felt light, like I could be better.

At the top of one grassy hillside I saw a marmot hanging out and after inspection saw that it’s little hidey hole was the best seat in the house. I sat there for awhile waiting for the little creature to stick it’s nose out while soaking in the sheer grandeur of the mountains before me. We played this little game and I thanked it letting me share its spot. Clouds were rolling in and I wanted to get below tree line. On the way down, the trail was lined with blueberry bushes which of course slowed my progress.

I made it to the trees and entered an old growth of huge Cedars and Cypress. The blow downs here didn’t even bother me because it was like playing on a jungle gym. The still standing old trees had massive trunks that were cemented into the ground. These trees seemed to say We are here and we are not going anywhere. The Suiattle River was close by and offered a pleasant hum of rushing water, and added to the soft whir of leaves in the wind. After clambering up one fallen trunk that was over 6 ft tall, I sat down. I reclined against my pack and looked up into the canopy where barely any sky shone through. In my peripheral vision were monumental tree trunks and under me was one of their downed brethren soft with decay. It was a swirl of cashmere brown and jeweled greens. For a brief moment it felt like I was being cradled by these ancient beings and I could breathe easy. But then just as fast the moment fled when I realized the moisture from the tree below me was seeping into my clothing.

I reluctantly continued on to camp that had a creepy lean-to pit toilet. One comment said it looked like the Blair Witch hide out and others compared it to the Iron Throne. I’ve never seen Game of Thrones so I leaned towards Blair Witch.

Day 167: 19.1miles

It rained overnight and everything at my feet got wet. It was no fault of my tent though. I usually put my socks on the mesh part, which is usually not a problem, but in rain it drags the tent walls down and lets in water not to mention got all my socks wet. Like soaking wet. Like I just walked through a river wet.

Also I had some weird dreams about a scraggly old witch (like the one from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) scratching on my tent and I was immobilized. I think that comment about the Blair Witch toilet seeped into my subconscious.

I got going with wet feet and got even more wet with the overgrowth on trail turning into a car wash. Luckily I found a sunny spot for lunch and had a pack explosion to dry everything out. Afterwards it was a beautiful walk down to camp. All sheer rock mountain slopes, tall pines and clear cool streams. I thought that it’s a shame my trip was ending when it just starting to get good. I began to think there might be a point to this whole experience.

Day 168: 14.5 miles

Today was town day…well kind of. I got up at 0400 to wall the 10 miles to the shuttle pick up to go into Stehekin. I managed to get 10 miles done before 1000, a first! I’ve never had a real interest in doing 10 before 10 but the lure of huge Cinnamon Buns picked my feet up.

Stehekin is a tiny hamlet of a resort town that is only accessible by boat or foot. There are no roads there. The bakery is much touted as having the best baked goods and the Cinnamon roll above all. And the shuttle stops there for 10 minutes before continuing onto town. I decided I was going to sit there for longer and just walk the two miles into town. I sat there with another hiker friend Sprocket and enjoyed the cozy fug of coffee and food.

On the walk into town is an organic garden where you can pick up fresh veggies and goats yogurt. There Dahlias of every color and had trees frogs sitting in them. The road skirted the lake and a bunch of old vehicles parked along it. Like they bought that car the year it came out, got it on the barge to Stehekin and then never left. The lodge in Stehekin proper had a post office which is where I sent my resupply that I no longer needed. I kept all the Welsch’s Fruit snack and the M&Ms but put most of my food in the hiker box.

I sat at a table overlooking Lake Chelan and drank cold drinks while chatting with various hikers. I saw a couple if nurses I’d been bouncing around and we had a long hilarious discussion about the mold in one the water bottles (Healthcare humor).

I got on the shuttle back to trail around 1600. I had contemplated staying the night but then soooooo many hikers kept showing up. Once back on trail it was a huge and sweaty climb up (always up). I got to camp and ate the sandwich from the bakery I’d packed out. I lay in my tent, this was my last night.

Day 169: 14.5 miles

Today was my last one on the PCT. I “slept in” which means I didn’t set an alarm and woke up at 0600. I dawdled over breakfast and packing up, in no rush. The trail up to Rainy Pass was a forever climb up but nothing unbearable. I crossed a wobbley bridge and stopped frequently for snack breaks. My mind kept shying away from the reality that I’d be done today, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it.

The trail made a turn and then suddenly I was walking near HWY 20 and hearing the sounds of cars. The end was immenent. I got to the road crossing and then the sign that says Rainy Pass. This was it. I got my picture taken and then a random couple asked if I needed a ride. It was all very quick and anticlimactic. After being whisked to the quaint western looking town of Wintrop I took a shower and finally had a moment to process.

I didn’t start this trail to have big revelations or figure out the big questions. I already knew from the AT that was a fool’s quest. You just end up with more questions. I wanted the movement, the constant change of scenery to soothe something in me. I wanted to bathe my nervous system in nature and let it reset my alarms. In some ways this was successful, but also in others that were unexpected.

A lot of Hiker culture will tell you “Its about the people” when you thru hike. That the people you meet and connect with will renew your faith in humanity. Well this may be a hot take (it’s most certainly unpopular) but I don’t think it’s the people. It is your self and how you react to this world. I may write a whole other post about this, but on the whole, I didn’t connect with people. In fact most of them annoyed the hell out of me. There were about 20 hikers I’d want to talk to again (you know who you are, and if you don’t then you probably still are; I’m horrible at communicating).

For me the trail experience wasn’t the big grand views or feeling connected. It was the little things. I caught a glimpse of this on the AT and it only solidified on the PCT. The litte steps it takes to add up to a 2000+ mile journey. I started fat and dangerously out of shape, with nervous system screaming for relief and a emotional blockages that created baggage for my baggage. I can’t say that I’m a fresh new person now, but the little lessons I learned with the little steps I took shaped something inside me into a softer gentler version. Someone who can say I feel happy and then mean it.

Someone who has experieced:

The bursting flavor of a sun ripened blueberry straight off the plant. The seeming suspension of gravity on Mt Whitney, like I could fly straight off and into the sky. The quiet peace of Old Growth Cedars. Seeing the rounded horizon high on a pass and think that I could feel the earth turn. The humor of observing chipmunks, pikas, and marmots going about their daily lives. The comfort of knowing I’d never be hungover on trail. The strength in climbing 2000 ft without stopping. The brilliance of the Milky Way arched overhead as I fall asleep. The grinding whirr of windmills. The blankets of moss and lichen on granite. Sunlight drifting through the leafy canopy. City lights twinkling in the distance as I look out from my midnight pee. Walking through the cool pines after exposure and feeling my breath quieten and slow down like I’m falling into sync with the forest. The fireworks of wildflower colors and figuring out their names. Meeting my physical needs in a concrete way. The color explosion of a desert sunset. Meeting someone that I feel at ease talking with.

Those are just a few little moments. Some I haven’t even parsed yet and most I’ve futiley tried to grip too tight. So what does it all mean? Not much. It doesn’t have to. I do know I’m extremely grateful though. The privilege of experiencing all that is something I can’t appreciate enough. Even that’s not a big lesson, it’s all about the tiny steps. They lead you were you need to go, which apparently wasn’t the terminus, but somewhere I was supposed to end.

The PCT – Washington – Days 151 – 161

Day 151: 20.8 miles

Lots of people showed up to my lake side tent site after dark. I assume they stayed as late as possible at White Pass before stumbling out into the night. So what was a peaceful evening turned into a wait-and-see game of how many people who would up.

The morning dawned cool and misty. The lake and trees were shrouded in fog. Despite the chilly temp I was soon drenched in sweat from strenuous climbing all morning. The air felt heavy with moisture and I didn’t want to stop too long at any one spot. There wasn’t much to see anyway.

The sun make occasional appearances but didn’t fully show out until after lunch. And then it just got miserably muggy. As soon as I got out into the open though the humidity just became straight up heat. The climbs were big and giving me Sierra flashbacks. I turned one bend and then Smack! there was Mt Rainier right up in my face.

Camped near Anderson lake where I was able to wipe some of the sweat off and thankfully there was a light breeze to keep the mosquitos off. I ate dinner with some other hikers I’ve been bouncing around and I joked thay we should raise our drink pinkies to Mt Ren-yay, cuz it’s all French and fancy.

Day 152: 15.6 miles

The first climb up out of Dewey Lake (which would have been nice to camp at if I hadn’t seen the large poop right next to the water) was a beast. Long and steep. There were lots of wildflowers to enjoy on the other side though, coming down into Chinook pass. There were also loads of day hikers smelling all fresh and perfumey.

There was no sign in the wilderness to prove it but I had been walking the outskirts of Mt Rainier National Park. So when I got to the pedestrian bridge over the main road in, I had to get a picture. There was some trail magic (sodas and muffins) in the parking lot. It was next to one of the stinkiest pit toilets I’ve ever had the misfortune to smell.

After guzzling some ice cold Gatorade I marched back up into the trail with all the others. There seems to be a rather large bubble of people around me and it is a bit distressing. Of course I’m always the slowest and that makes for a stressful day when you are competing for campsites. I got some cell service and found out there is a Norovirus outbreak in the group of hikers ahead of me at Snoqualmie Pass. So that’s other wrinkle in my anxious brain meat.

Also I was just feeling slow and tired which didn’t help the 2000 ish foot climb I had to go over. I stopped a bit early because there was a campsite available next to a cold spring and also the next 8 miles were a burn (which I wouldn’t want to camp in).

Day 153: 26.8 miles

Today I shot out of camp like a bullet. I credit the instant Folgers for the burst of caffeine that enabled me to get 6 miles in 2 hours. I skimmed through an old burn area and in the early morning light the trail was bearable. The scarred toothpicks of old pines were spread out amongst the outrageous bloom of fireweed. Pinks and greens went by in a blur. I stopped at Mike Urichs cabin to check it out, but didn’t stay long because hordes of other people started dropping in. They were from PCT days and had gotten back on at Chinook Pass. Probably carrying Covid to add to the mix of fun surprises on trail.

I managed to get 15 miles in before I stopped for lunch, which blew my mind. I felt strong and full of energy. I’m not sure what the right mix was to recreate this, because I need to feel that more often. I was thinking today how I can actually finish this thing. The end is nigh. And when it’s over and I’m back in my “normal life” how I’ll be longing to be back out on trail all dirty and tired. I’m getting nostalgic for the thing that hasn’t even ended yet. Lol.

Day 154: 23.3 miles

Today started slow. I don’t think the Cafe Bustelo instant packets work. You’d think they would have all the caffeine, but no. It was a lot of steep ups and downs in a green tunnel until I got to Stampede Pass. There was some trail magic there which I sat around for awhile. Then I took an alternate I’d found in the comments on Guthook.

Basically I’d walk down the Forest Service road to a bike/hike trail and then take that into Snoqualmie Pass. It was relatively flat and easy and I was in! Once down on the trail the walking was on cruise control. I zoomed past Purple Foxglove and Tansy, large rock walls and thick Pine forest, a low level lake and back country campsites. It was at one of these campsites I decided to stop, Cold Creek boasted of picnic tables and pit toilets. I saw a couple there that I met on the first day and hadn’t seen since Tuolomne Meadows! I fell asleep to the sounds of the creek and the hum of I-90 across the lake.

Day 155: 4.2 miles

I got going early so that I could get to town and have some pancakes. Snoqualmie Pass boasts of one diner attached to the hotel, two coffee shops, and one gas station. It was the gas station I’d sent my resupply and new shoes to. They charged $8 a box to pick up. I’m willing to pay my due, but that seems a little outrageous. Especially since the boxes were all out in the store where anybody could pick them up.

I ate my pancake breakfast and managed to get checked into the hotel early. I promptly wiped everything down with some Purell wipes because there was a GI big or perhaps Norovirus blazing its way through all the hikers. No wonder, when it’s a badge of honor to not shower or clean oneself for weeks at a time. I spent the rest of the day napping and eating.

Day 156: 0 miles

I’d been feeling very tired and weary lately so I thought it might be time for a zero. I spent it eating, napping, and watching Sandman. Woah! What a good show! SPOILER ALERT

I thought it was weird that the show was so delicate around showing a baby’s death (not visualizing the body or the mothers reaction), but then they were brutal with the kittens. As soon as I saw what that douchecopter was going to do I threw down my phone in horror. But otherwise, I thought the whole show was well thought out and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Day 157: 14.3 miles

I kept dawdling leaving town. The lure of coffee was too strong. I got back on trail about 1030 and it was immediately a climb. It wasn’t too bad though – lots of switchbacks and a gentle grade. At the top was the famed Kendall Catwalk, where you could see both sides of the range and then walked along the ridgeline with a gorgeous open view to the east. There were lots of squeaky meeps from the Pikas and angry chittering from the Squirrels.

As the afternoon wore on, clouds rolled in and obscured all the views. And then it started drizzling. The trail got very rocky and started to get steep. It was an unpleasant walk and getting to camp became my all consuming goal. There were 10 tents there already but I managed to find a cove of trees. Slanted but cozy.

Last new pair of shoes!

Day 158: 20.5 miles

Everything was wet or damp when I woke. It was still drizzling and soaked into my bones as soon as I started walking. My hands got numb and my nose ran freely. Then it started raining in earnest and I seriously considered stopping and setting up my tent. I started to descend into a green valley and the rain came to a stop. The clouds still hung around, threatening to ruin a good time.

I started to climb up 5 miles and a zillion switchbacks to my lunch spot. The little pond was like many of the alpine lakes – clear and blue green. I set up my tent so it could air dry, but also had the added benefit of being able to eat in peace away from the infernal mosquitos. The walk down to Waptus river was easy, but long. I set up camp and met two other hikers who were nurses too!

Day 159: 16.4 miles

I’m still feeling exhausted. Today was okay, just slow and I couldn’t muster the energy to go further.

Day 160: 15.6 miles

Three big climbs today. Lots of alpine lakes. On the second climb I finally got a picture of a Pika. I saw it dart underneath a rock as I was rounding the corner and for some reason (read: I was out of breath) I thought to stop and wait for it return. Sure enough a little nose poked out of the hole. It kept darting to and fro and finally crossed the trail to another hidey hole. Also on this climb was a hillside of blueberries, all fat and juicy. I learned the value of a sun ripened blueberry straight off the stem.

The third climb was horrendous. Mostly because it was steep and in the full sun. Also I’m just so so tired. I feel like a clock winding down. Making the miles seemed to be easier a couple of weeks ago, and yet again I’m fighting my body. The only real reason I keep going now is that I want to finish.

Day 161: 4.2 miles

Today was town day so my feet should have been feeling swift. But then the trail was overtaken by blueberry bushes and I had to keep picking them. THE ANTIOXIDANTS! They are so sweet and four hikers ran by me before I finished. Incidently 2/3 of the Ultralight Bros will offer asinine commentary on what you are doing. Can’t get any hiking done if you’re picking berries! Hurr. You sure do have a lot of berries! Hurr Durr. Whatever. They’re just jealous they don’t have a bag full of juicy bois.

I got down to Stevens Pass and picked up my resupply box. I had planned on hitching in Skykomish (which sounds like it is a town that belongs in Michigan) and had a ride offered as I was about to head down to the road. Anthony owns the outfitters and serendipitously was also who I’d contacted about a place to stay. I now have a nice travel trailer to stay in and fried chicken in my future. Things are looking up.

The PCT – Washington – Days 141 – 150

Day 141: 3.7 miles

I caught the bus back out to Cascade Locks, after eating something called a cruffin from a place called Twisted Croissant. It was a croissant in the shape of a muffin and filled with apricot custard. It was a mess to eat, but quite tasty. After I got back to the trail, I began my walk across the Bridge of the Gods. It was made famous by the book and movie “Wild”, being the end point to Cheryl Strayed’s PCT hike. What they don’t tell you is that you are literally walking in the road and there is nowhere to have life altering revelations or poetic recaps of your journey. Also it was very windy and my hat kept trying to start its own journey away from my head. So I just walked quickly across the Oregon-Washington border and took a bunch of pics on the other side.

Back in the woods I could still hear traffic as I walked along the path bordered by large amount of berries. I’ve often wished I enjoyed any berries other than blue and straw, because I’d have a veritable feast. But I don’t like them, the seeds get stuck in my teeth and their flavor is just meh. I made it to a nice little campsite next to a lake and set up early. I wasn’t really planning on going far today anyway.

Day 142: 15.4 miles

My sleeping pad apparently had a hole in it and kept deflating through out the night. I got about 4 cumulative hours of sleep. I had to go down to the lake to see where the hole was in my pad which made me late getting started. It was all uphill and so so humid. I was drenched in sweat and miserably sleepy so I stopped early for lunch and took a nap. I got to Rock Creek early and claimed a pretty sweet spot right next to the swimming hole. It would’ve been sweeter if a huge group of SOBOs hadn’t hung out in front of my tent for hours, but once they left it was peaceful.

Day 143: 19.5 miles

There was a traffic jam on trail this morning. A mama deer and her fawn were in the trail. I stepped forward and the mama deer daintily picked her way into the foliage but her fawn stubbornly remained behind on trail giving me a side eye. I stepped forward again and the fawn bounced down the trail a bit and stopped to pick at some snacks. We kept up this routine for a couple minutes with the fawn getting further and further down the trail. Meanwhile mama deer is placidly munching in the greenery, seemingly without a care in the world. Eventually we came to a bend that formed a gully where the fawn flounced down into the underbrush and back towards mama, who I’m sure didn’t even know her child was gone.

The restof the day was unremarkable. More humidity and more climbing.

Day 144: 19.6 miles

The days are starting to blend together in one long walk in a green tunnel. I don’t mind the trees, I love them. But it makes for unremarkable notes on my day. More walking. More podcasts. My sleeping pad is still leaking despite the patches.

Day 145: 18.6 miles

Miles went by fast today. Not much thinking, just walking in the humidity.

Day 146: 6 miles

My sleeping pad continues to defy efforts at fixing it and deflated five times last night. It made it quite difficult to get any rest with numb arms and painful hips. I didn’t get an early start like I wanted to either. Today was town day and there was a shuttle to Trout Lake at 0800. It was five miles away. I thought I might have to wait for the 1000 shuttle, but I somehow managed to hike those five miles in under 2 hours.

In Trout Lake I laundered, showered, and picked up my resupply box. The General Store caters to hikers and had a hiker hang out spot with a charging station and shade. I hung out in the grass, all clean like while I waited for my battery to charge. I also got some super glue to plug the hole in my sleeping pad. After it dried, I blew it up and lounged on it to make sure it’d stay inflated.

A lot of hikers came and went. Everyone is talking about the PCT trail days. It’s a festival type event held at Cascade Locks. Everyone is trying to figure out rides back there and mileage, etc etc. I’m excited because it means the trail will be less crowded and if I time it right I might be able to maintain a smaller bubble for the rest of the trip.

Around 1530 I gathered my things and got on the shuttle back to trail. I only went a mile to a nice little creek full of frogs. Or toads. I’m not sure which. I spent the afternoon napping and reading on my fixed sleeping pad.

Day 147: 19.6 miles

About a mile into my day I came upon a huge hillside of huckleberry bushes. I had to stop and pick some. I kept narrating to myself like I was on a TV show. This season on Alone…But Not Really, Compass is in huckleberry heaven. Will they help her survive the harsh terrain? Tune in to find out! Lol. Picking berries really slows down your pace, but totally worth it.

The trail climbed to an alpine ridge that skirted the base of Mt Adams. All day it loomed to the east as I went in and out of tree line to lava rock fields. I crossed a muddy river that was raging with snow melt. It was actually worse than anything I ever saw in the Sierra. After that I put myself in cruise control and listened to podcasts.

Camp was at Lava Springs, a lovely site with the clearest and coldest water in Wahington so far. It was snow melt filtered through lava rock and delightful.

Day 148: 22.9 miles

Today started out fast and stayed that way all day. I’m not sure how I maintained my pace but I did and even passed someone, a first! The bugs were bad, like real bad. Mosquitos kept trying to fly into my eyes and ears and flies would swarm any unprotected skin the second you stopped. I set up my tent to eat lunch in peace. I saw a huge line of hikers that filed past, all hurrying to White Pass so they can hitch back to Casacde Locks.

In the afternoon the trail started climbing ever upwards. The sun beat down on my hood. The trees began to thin out as I rose in elevation. At some unnamed pass, I crested the top of the ridge and the spectacular vista of the Goat Rocks spread out before me. The imposing towers of lava rock and sandstone rose up sharply reflecting the sinking sunlight.

The trail climbed along the valley wall to Cispus Pass and crossed over to another valley. Wildflowers dotted the hills and creeks flowed down the rocks to the basin below. I found a campsite next to Cispus River with a glorious view of the mountain crest above. I had it all to myself.

Day 149: 14.5 miles

I didn’t wake up until late which is just as well because walking in the dark would have been a crime in this section. I kept stopping to take pictures and using my plant app to figure out the wildflowers exploding on the hillsides. The usual suspects were in abundance: Lupine, Asters, Columbines, Corn Lillies, and an usual shade Indian Paintbrush. It was a stawberry pinkish red that seemed to glow. New flowers I observed were Sitka Valerian, Braced Lousewort, Ranger’s Buttons, and Bistort. I also saw a Dr Suess puffball looking flower that I later learned was a White Pasqueflower. I think they should be renamed.

The huge spires of Goat Rocks stood guard over the lush forested valley below. Glacier fed streams tumbled over lava rocks into waterfalls and the air was heavy with moisture and the smell of pine tree needles. I rambled along the trail barely noticing the climb. The trail wound into a large alpine meadow with the last views of Mt Adams behind.

The trail started to get steep with a small patch of snow that was a bit butt clenching. I got to a trail junction where you could choose to go the lower easier route, but there were two more snow passes. Or you could take the high route with reportedly spectacular views. There was already a wide open view of Mt Ranier, and I didn’t feel like more unnecessary climbing so I chose the lower route. The snow wasn’t that bad, I just went slow and didn’t look down.

On the other side was the “Knife’s Edge”, a bit of trail that straddled the mountain tops where you see both sides. Mt Ranier was off to the northwest and slowly got closer. The trail got positively Appalachian with its extremely steep elevation changes but the exhilarating feeling of being up high with 360 degree views made the work seem like nothing.

Eventually the trail went back down into the trees where I started to hike faster. Incidently I also saw Jupiter of YouTube fame. I just kinda waved as I went by. There were more huckleberries to eat which slowed me down a little, but mostly it was a cruise to camp which had the coldest water ever! Yum!

Day 150: 8 miles, prolly more

Woke early because today is a “town” day! It was only 8 miles to the White Pass Kracker Barrel where I’d pick up my resupply. Word on the trail was that you had to get there early to get in the list for showers and laundry so I wasn’t counting on it.

On the way up that last climb was an absolutely breathtaking (both literally and figuratively) view of Mt Ranier and the surrounding mountain ranges. At the top I met two horsemen who’d I bounce around on the way down. They were slower on the rocky slopes and overtook me on the forested bit.

I made it to the highway and cruised into the store where to my delight the list for showers and laundry was very short! Huzzah! I get to be clean. I love that.

Now I’m sitting here waiting for my laundry after which I’ll probably head back out onto trail.

The PCT – Oregon – Days 133 – 140

Day 133 – 4 miles

Our ride out to Timothy Lake was rather late which resulted in us getting back to trail later than planned. It also didn’t help that I insisted we stop at the last Blockbuster on the way out. Riding in a car puts me to sleep (like a baby) so when we did get back to the trailhead I was feeling rather drowsy and unmotivated. Luckily Lindsay had the genius idea to only walk a couple of miles to a lakeside campsite and go swimming. So that’s what we did.

Because I ended up skipping basically all of Oregon, the pressure to crush miles into Washington had lessened. I don’t like skipping so many miles but thru hikes often require adapting to sudden changes and releasing the need for tight control. Besides I had a beautiful afternoon by a gorgeous lake with great company and I doubt that would have been possible had I been so intent on making miles happen.

We ended up finding a perfect spot next to Timothy Lake where there was easy access to the shoreline, but felt like it was secluded. Apparently some planes use this lake as a waterway airport to practice their water landings because there were two of them that flew over repeatedly. This didn’t stop us though from blowing up our sleeping pads and using them as floats on the lake. After drying off and eating we retired to our respective tents and I lay there watching the late afternoon sun shimmer on the water as a mama duck and her ducklings floated along the shoreline. It was a nice day.

Day 134: 18.5 miles

The temperature overnight was perfect! It was chilly enough to actually use my sleeping bag and not overheat! I slept great. A side trail went by Little Crater Lake which was beautiful. The deep green and blue of the lake reflected the sky above and the meadows around it were filled with a fragrant Rose Spirea. I also found out was a Corn Lilly looks like after it blossomed.

I was cruising along the trail and looked to the left and Bam! there was Mt Hood. I guess I should have paid more attention because shortly after I fell and rolled my ankle pretty badly. I limped to my lunchspot and saw Lindsay. We were soon surrounded by at least 15 other thru hikers. I’m now a part of the “fire bubble” that is full of all the hikers who had to skip around the recent fires. Some even had to hitch from as far away as Truckee.

Lindsay and I planned to camp along the ridge before Timberline Lodge. There was a designated campsite right behind the Lodge but we figured it’d be full of people by the time we got there. Besides the spot we picked had a front row seat to Mt Hood. The only issue is that apparently the mountain is made of sand and it was windy.

We cowboy camped (I wouldn’t have been able to keep my tent up anyway) and I ended up with sand everywhere. But it was worth it. I spent the night watching the stars come out and then the Milky Way emerge. Mt Hood loomed off to the left and the Milky Way formed an arch over me like an umbrella. Laying on my back and looking straight up, the dome of the night sky filled my vision, no earth at all. I let my thoughts wander and it felt like I could be floating in space of it weren’t for the tether of my body. Eventually my mind calmed and I felt peacefully insignificant in the light of the vast universe. I fell asleep with the dust swirling around me.

Day 135: 11.4 miles

I woke to a glorious sunrise, all vibrant pinks and sherbert oranges. Then I curled up shrimp style and went back to sleep. Me and Lindsay were going to the Timberline Lodge’s famed breakfast buffet and it didn’t open till 0800 anyway. We got going after awhile to get out of the dusty wind though and it was only a mile walk to delicious food. For some reason I kept thinking that I didn’t deserve it because I didn’t work hard enough. WTF? I shut that voice up and got to eating a variety of delights. Near the waffle making station was a plate of what I thought was butter. I put some on my waffle and found out after a bite that it was whip cream. It was so good I went and got another waffle just to slather that ambrosia on. After eating way too much and drinking a carafe of coffee, we went out to the sitting area to digest.

We talked with another lady named Alaska who was a park ranger. We all kept saying we’ll get going in a minute and then not doing it. Around noon Id sat for long enough and started back on trail. The path around and leading away from the lodge was filled with hordes of day hikers and overnighters. It was like trying to to walk around at Disneyland.

My pace apprently has gotten better, because I soon left them all behind and ate up the trail. After every bend there was another view of Mt Hood to the right. I almost got lost near Lost Creek which was apropos and gave me flash backs to Mission Creek. The trail had gotten washed put at some point and now you just sorta winged it to get around the water.

Not long after finding the trail I ended up at Ramona Falls. It was reminiscent of Burney Falls where the water is pouring out of volcanic rock in multiple lacey falls, but on a more immediate and intimate scale. You could go right up to it and get a cooling shower of mist. I sat here for 30 minutes eating snacks and resting my feet.

There was a nice log bridge on the trail after I got going that I fell on for no discernable reason. I just fell out like an old person with low blood pressure. I fell right down to my left knee with the full force of my whole body and pack. I crawled to the end of the bridge and sat there crying in pain and frustration. Why do I keep falling? Is this a pattern?

Other hikers walked by, asking in concern if I was okay, making me feel even worse. Now I’d be that crying hiker. Lol. I pulled myself together and limped to the closest campsite which actually turned out quite nice. It was a mossy enclave next to a chilly creek. I set up camp and called it a night.

Day 136: 27.1 miles

I got going early because I’d have go make big miles in order to get to Cascade Locks on time for my friend to pick me up. It was a mix of forest and wide open ridges. After lunch were a bunch of blow downs that handed me my whole ass. I had to stop every 25 feet and crawl under a tree. It was frustrating. That combined with the heat and the overgrown trail I was starting to feel overwhelmed. The great thing about being out here is that I can just let it out. The trees don’t care that I’m alternating between crying and screaming. And I don’t have to bury those emotions for later processing (though to be honest, they’ll probably just stay butied.) I can just feel my feeling and excrete them like the copious amounts of sweat I’ve been drenched in.

Eventually the trail opened up to a view of the mountains to the north. I asked a passing day hiker if he knew their names and he told me they were from left to right: Mt St Helens, Mt Ranier, and Mt Adams. I made it back into the woods to the lovely and soothing walk into Wahtum Lake where I’d get back onto the Eagle Creek trail alternate. It was a true green tunnel, but it was well maintained and a delightful walk. I got into a burn area near sunset and the campsite I was planning on staying at was already full. I found a little spot nearby next to some charred but live trees. It was late and my feet hurt, but I walked over a marathon!

Day 137: 12ish miles

I had to walk down the trail a significant distance to do my morning business because a man had set up camp right next to the trail (and kept his white light on for over an hour when he was making camp well after 10pm). There was nowhere to go that wasn’t in view of him. So my steps were quick until I found a suitable spot.

I slowed down when I got to the creek. It was a cool cliffside walk next to the water down below. There were a couple of spots that made the perfect swimming hole, literal pools in the shelves of rock. There were a couple of amazing falls – 7 mile and Twister. The coupe de grace though wa Tunnel Falls. You come around a bend and there it is, a huge narrow waterfall into a pool below. The trail is cut out of the fern covered rock and goes underneath the falls itself. The tunnel is full of verdant green plant life and it feels like you’ve gone back in time to another world. I had this special spot to myself for about ten minutes before someone else showed up.

The trail down to the trailhead quickly got crowded with day hikers as it was Saturday. I was categorizing them by their smells: detergent, perfume, or soap. I’d hate to think what category they’d put me in. I got down to the trailhead and started the walk on the old highway into Casade Locks. I put on some Dolly Pardon and cruised. By noon I was walking under the Bridge of the Gods and heading to Thunder Island for a burger. I saw Lindsay there and we chatted while I waited for my friend Sally to pick me up. I was sad that Lindsay would be going ahead because it’s so rare that I find someone that easy to talk to. But I already made plans to visit Portland and my friends there and I still needed to send out my resupply for Washtington. Also it’s been a long time since I’ve seen some of these friends so this was a welcome respite.

Days 138-140: 0 miles

I ended up staying longer that I’d originally planned. I got to see some friends I haven’t seen in years. I got my resupply done for Washington. I ate a bunch of food and took a bunch of showers. I hung out with my dear friend Sally and her David, who valiantly made Eclair Cake. I’ve gotten the itch to get back out on trail though. Not to keep any schedule, but just to get it done. I’m cautiously excited to see what new lessons and experiences Washington will offer.

The PCT – Oregon – Days 123 – 132

Day 123: 22.6 miles

My first full day in Oregon was sunny and breezy. It mostly still looks like Northern California though and there are still views of Mt Shasta. At one point I came upon a toilet seat with a really grat view. I think it’s purpose was for campers who would bring a bucket, because there was no hole underneath.

I reminisced about California as I walked and tried to make a little sense of my journey so far. It was only four months ago that I took my first step into the wild possibilities of the PCT. The desert seems so far away, what I started with and who I was feels distant. But it slapped me around physically and hardened my legs. The Sierra feels like a fever dream that scraped me raw. It cleaned up some of my mental and emotional filters. The Sierra also kicked my butt into more shape and steeled my mental resolve. Northern California, although a more gentle terrain, became an endurance challenge. California seemed to never end, stretching out forever into the horizon. It was also hot. Very hot.

All three sections built on the same lesson though: it’s about the journey, not the destination. The little details and the side quests. The pancakes. The amazing trail angels and the random trail magic. It was never about the end point, but the experiences along the way and how I could let it change me if I wanted to. I managed to have this clarity while sweating up a climb in the full on sun.

The whole day was full of trail magic at every turn. Near lunchtime, two ladies had left some cold sodas and watermelon. About two hours later at the top of a hill, a trail angel was restocking two coolers full of sodas. On the way down from this hill a group of children (with their parents nearby) were giving away popsicles. I think all this trail magic is possible because of all the dirt roads we’ve been crossing.

High on sugar I ran down the mountain, through all the overgrowth of wildflowers and shrubs to getting closer to Ashland. Close to camp, my feet started to cramp up and I started to get shooting pains. I’m certain that my shoes are to big and will have to remedy that in town as well. I found camp occupied by two other hikers and we chatted a bit while fighting the blood sucking mosquitos. Also there were 4 bars of 4G! I was planning to watch some Netflix, but as soon as I lay down I fell asleep.

Day 124: 3.1 miles

Town day! I woke late because it was a short walk to I-5 where I’d try to hitch into Ashland. As soon as I hit the main road there was already a guy stopping to see if I needed a ride! He picked me and few others up and even offered to drive us up to the REI in Medford. (Ashland’s outfitter was closed because of a fire.) I managed to get most of my chores done by 1500! I even bought all the resupply I’d be sending ahead.

On the way out of Shop N Kart, a stranger asked if I was a PCT hiker (what gave it away? Was it the smell?) and did I need anything? A little known fact is that we’ll walk 2000+ miles in the woods but not one mile in town. I asked if he’d give me and this other hiker I was with a ride back to the hotel. It was hot and bright and the Uber pickins were slim. Matthew agreed to cart us about and even ended up giving us a tour. We got milkshakes at Zoeys Cafe. I got Peach in case you’re wondering and it was gone in about two minutes it was so good! I gave him the trail angel name Rogue which I think he liked (he’s from the Rogue Valley, was a river guide on the Rogue River, and Rogue Pears are his fav fruit).

I decided a couple of days ago that I wanted a hotel room to myself. I really like the group I’ve been hiking with but when it comes to staying in towns, it seems like we are all piled on top of one another. I’ve been missing my privacy which you’d think would be easy to find out in the woods. But not as easy as it sounds. So I booked a hotel room and savored the ability to be totally alone in my own space. I took a long hot shower and used TWO towels! I spread my gear out with no concern. I kept the TV off. And I slept in the middle of the bed. It was nice.

Day 125: 0 miles

TJ and Genna made it into town early and I met them for breakfast at the Morning Glory Cafe. Their pancakes were huge and delicious. We went walking about and I picked up my glasses at the post office. I can see normally again!

They came back to my hotel to swim in the pool and enjoy the A/C while waiting for Froggy and Grampa to get to Medford. They were staying up there and I forgot that tomorrow was Genna’s birthday. They left with my well wishes to get on the bus. I spent the rest of the day wallowing in the comfort of the A/C.

Day 126: 12.4 miles

I woke eager to get back on trail. After having a cinnamon roll and coffee of course. My hiking group was going ot be staying in Medford and I felt kind of bad for leaving (especially on a birthday). That all melted away as soon I stepped on trail though.

It was already hot and humid. I walked in an inquisitive daze. Small things kept capturing my attention. Like the new plants dotting the trail (Sulfur Buckwheat and Oceanspray), or the family of grouse crossing the trail ahead of me, a long line of little dinosaurs. There was an electric hum in the air, partly due to the industrious bees darting to and fro among the Giant Hyssop, but also because the air felt heavier. I hiked slow and dreamy as I pondered the trail before me. It kept going from green tunnel to volcanic desert, to lively meadows and back again. Pilot rock jutted over the landscape and a hazy Mt Shasta lingered in the background. I wasn’t worried about getting in miles for some reason, so I felt no rush and no shame in my constant stopping.

I broke to have a siesta in the shade of a Cedar next to a ice cold spring. A bunch of hikers bottlenecked here to escape the oppressive heat. I met the famed Sticky who would write comments on the Guthook map app in haiku format. Everyone was talking about blasting through Oregon and how the trail is getting hard mentally. For once I felt that was on the other side of this, but I’d be more excited to challenge myself physically if wasn’t so dang humid.

After being lazy in the shade for too long I shouldered my pack to continue into the still very humid afternoon. The first mile was all uphill and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. The air weighed down on my face and shoulders with a fierce intensity. I made it another mile to the next water source and heard thunder. That clinched it for me. The intense heat felt boiling and if it was going to rain also I was going to put up my tent. No sooner than I had crawled into my Dyneema oasis, it started pouring rain and then hailing! The air released it’s moisture and cooled quickly. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and then watching the Quivering Aspen leaves flutter in the wind.

Day 127: 20 miles

I started early to hopefully walk in the cool morning air, but it was already a steamy wool blanket of miserable air. The sunrise was beautiful though. I could see the colors through the trees and finally made it to an open spot for even brighter illumination.

The trail got overgrown and was irritating me. With the already intense heat also overwhelming me, I took the opportunity to walk a nice wide open gravel road instead of the trail. After I crossed over Hwy 66 the trail crisscrossed with a bunch of back country roads and so I decided to follow one until it met up with the PCT again. Shade, flat gravel, no touchy feely plants, what a treat.

I got to a trailhead that also led down to Hyatt Lake resort and it was lunchtime! They posted a sign with their number advertising to PCT hikers that a ride down to the resort was possible. After a short wait, I was down at the resort tearing into a cheeseburger. The heat seemed more intense down in the valley near the mostly dried up Hyatt Lake. Me and some other hikers decided to hang out around the restuarant for a long while. I chatted with Sticky (the haiku writer) for an hour while it just seemed to get more oven like.

At some point though you have to get walking and my first step back onto trail after the noon siesta was done with great reluctance. It had to be in the upper 90s low 100s with a humidity index of a 1000%. I stopped for many breaks under shade trees and drank almost a liter in the first hour. I got to a road that would take me directly to camp for the night. From the east I could see dark storm clouds rolling over the mountains. There was an occasional rumble of thunder.

Camp was an old seemingly unused drive in campground. I say unused because the lake nearby was dried up and there was absolutely no one there. But there was a shower! The water was tepid at best, but I didn’t mind after the heat I just walked through! There was also flushing toilets, picnic tables, and water spigots! Such luxuries seemed unearned after leaving town only two days ago.

I took a chilly but refreshing shower and set up my tent. I was sitting at the picnic table when the encroaching storm finally hit. It rained for an hour or so and cooled the air. I laid down with the smell of rain and green and wet earth to lull me to sleep.

Day 128: 23.1 miles

I got a whole two hours of walking in the cool morning air before it returned to the normal programming of heat and humidity. I saw some new plants by what looked like a lazy river, but was probably an aquaduct of some sort. It was fenced in by Showy Milkweed, Bull Thistle, and Great Mullein.

I saw the great sitting rock of Guthook fame. Many hikers have noted in the comments of a nearby road that there is the best of sitting rocks nearby, and it is not to be missed! One hiker even commented they wanted to take this rock home to meet their momma. I sat on it and ate my second breakfast. It was, indeed, a sitting rock for the ages.

The trail was a flat straight shot for most of the morning. I made it to the lunch spot I’d planned quite early. It was an old cabin with a hand pump water spigot and a picnic table. It was too hot to sit inside the cabin, but there was some nice shade around the picnic table. The water from the well was deliciously cold. I had to show a younger hiker how to work the pump. He had just moved the handle once and expected water to come pouring out. I told him he had to put some arm work into it and he looked at me like this was a foreign concept. I thought it was pretty obvious.

After lunch I shot off into the afternoon heat. I drank some of my caffeine Mio and went on a tear. The trail wound in and out of forests and lava rock fields. Every time I hit the open rocky path the heat assaulted me from everywhere. So I tried to hurry back into the shade. I was drenched in sweat.

It wasn’t all unpleasant though. I got some views of the pointy Mt McLoughlin. I listened to some funny podcasts. I managed to make some miles and not die of heat exhaustion. I made it to camp and snagged a spot right next to the creek. I even managed to get in a creek bath! Not bad for the day.

Day 129: 22.7 miles

It is so hot all the time, even at night, which makes it hard to sleep. I knew I should get up early, but it was already muggy and I felt groggy anyway. My clothes were still damp from yesterday’s sweat.

Most of the day was walking in the coverage of the forest. The trail skirted Mt McLoughlin and headed a northerly direction into some old burn sections. I napped for two hours at lunch near a cold spring. It’d be the last good water for a long while.

I got to a rocky ridgeline that overlooked some mountains to one side and a valley of lakes to the other. Up top where I was, a backbone of charred trees did little to block the late afternoon sun. I made camp next a relativley clear pond. The mosquitos were considerate and waited till dusk to appear for their blood donations. Luckily I was already zipped up in my tent.

Day 130: 17.5 miles

Today started out dramatic. I could smell smoke, like from a campfire and the view to the south was hazy. As I crested a wide open ridgeline the wind picked and knocked me around. From the northeast dark clouds rolled in and it started raining, chilling my already damp skin. Walking around Shale Butte, Lucifer, and Devil’s Peak was a quick act of hopping from tree to tree for coverage. As I reached Devil’s Peak the rain died out and I was treated to a striking view of swift moving clouds and the sun trying to peak out over a barren volcanic landscape.

I came down into the valley and the temp rose immediately. There were a few cold streams to gather water from, but they wouldn’t last long. It would mean a long water carry into the next day. I hauled out five liters and the sun started to bake the land. Near lunch I was slowly climbing and it was very hot and exposed. I made it a shady campsite and fell out. It took a good ten minutes to even be able to set up for lunch. I decided to set up my tent and take a long nap and get away from the mosquitos.

Four hours later I felt better. I’d slept off and on but was out of the sun and if I didn’t move too much it wasn’t a sauna. I wasn’t going to move until 1600. After eating some salty chips and chugging a bunch of caffinated water I set out.

The large burn area I walking through was truly apocalyptic looking. A current fire further off was giving the sun that hazy red glow and there was an eerie wind whistling through the blackened pine skeletons. Thunder rumbled in the distance and there was the constant crackle and pop of tree limbs falling. The air was heavy with humidity and volcanic ash coated my legs. Once again I was sweating buckets.

I hurried through this unsettling landscape to find a suitable campsite. The first stand of live trees I found were an oasis of green amongst the imposing charred remains of their peers. I set up quickly because the skeeters were out for business. Funnily enough I wasn’t sleepy though and ended up reading late into the night.

Day 131: 7ish miles

The trees snapped all night which kept waking me up. I didn’t sleep well, but was late in starting. The air was still hazy in the distance which was worrisome. As soon as I entered Crater Lake National Park the mosquitos got vicious. Even though I had a bug net on and was wearing bug spray, the skeeters had no mercy for my legs, especially my ankles and knees. I had to jog to keep them off me because if I walked at even a fast pace they were on me.

I eventually got to the road and started towards Mazama Village which would be were I picked up my resupply package I’d mailed in Ashland. I got to the general store and was immediately asked by other hikers what are your plans? Confused I showed them my Coke and ice cream and said this was my plan. But no, apparently there were new fires north of Crater Lake and the trail was closed. I didn’t have any cell service and the wifi at the store was truly useless.

Stumped, I went out side to sit on the sidewalk and contemplate my future while I mowed down a Strawberry Shortcake bar. The trail was only closed for about 50 miles and one could try to skip around it, but there was another closure ahead that would require more shuttling. It seemed like the best option was to skip to Bend and reassess. There was another hiker named Lindsay that I’d been bouncing around that I liked talking to and we formulated a plan to hitch to Bend. We got the trolley to the actual Crater and had out views (they were hazy) before sticking out thumbs out. A mom and daughter on their way back to Portland picked us up and drove all the way!

Once in Bend we found a very cute hotel and managed to score a ride up to Timothy Lake in two days. So things worked out, mostly. I’m just bummed that I wasn’t fast enough to get through Oregon before the fire season. I’d finally gotten excited about testing my strength and endurance and “putting it all out there”. Now I kinda feel a little derailed. I was thinking that thru hiking the PCT every single mile may not be possible anymore.

Day 132: 0 miles

There is a Black Bear Diner in Bend! I introduced Lindsay to the wonders of their pancakes and then we spent the day wandering around doing things.

I think what is so disappointing about having to skip is that I’ve felt like I was on the precipice of something meaningful. Like I was about to get some clarity and now it is going to slip away. Like all the disorganized whirlwind of change is going to scatter those precious thoughts to the winds. But then I remember to let out my breath – that deep breath that is constantly caged in my throat.

I remember that being in nature, walking and pushing myself, brings me back to my body. It grounds me in my own life, to say I am here now. I can hear my breath and feel my heart. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem “When I Am Among The Trees” and the line “never hurry through the world but wall slowly and bow often”. It all seems so choatic and is not what I planned but I am here now and that’s enough.

The PCT – NorCal – Days 114 – 122

Day 114: 6 miles

I slept in past 0800 and still felt groggy. I took another shower and lazily started packing up, but mostly layed in bed. Everyone else went out for food, but I figured since we’d have about two hours to kill I’d go back to Black Bear Diner and have a last plate of pancakes. I am obsessed with them!

There was a free bus that would take us back to the trailhead and it was on this bus that I observed some local flavor. One man was munching on a bunch of dill like a carrot. Just going ham on it. Another fellow was twitchy AF and seem to have trouble staying awake. His skin was covered with scabs over his white pride tattoos which made me think he might be addicted to opiates. I was quite relieved when he got off the bus as I had to sit next to him, the bus was so full.

Back on trail I was immediately drenched in sweat and everyone in my group pulled ahead quickly. Froggy and Grandpa were back in the gang. They had gotten off trail because of Covid. We’d planned to only go 6 miles because there was a gnarly climb right after this that we didn’t want to do in the afternoon heat. So I’ll be tackling that in the morning.

Day 115: 22 miles

Thr dreaded climb wasn’t so bad in the morning. It’s gentle slopes were just long and near the end the heat was ramping up. The continual and varied views of Castle Crag added some drama to the landscape. Their sharp spires and cliffs seemed imposing.

My feet have been feeling better which has been surprising. I’m used to everything falling apart. It got me to thinking about how my body is healing and is now at a point to focus more on my mental game. I’m making it a priority to ask myself what I can to do make myself happy each day. Even if it is a small thing. And then be deeply grateful for it. Today it was ice cold water with Country Time Pink Lemonade flavoring.

Also I realized this morning that my hip belt buckle is broken. Again. I’m not entirely sure I can recommend Gossamer Gear anymore.

Look at these little weird bean balloon plants. Look at them!

Day 116: 20.4 miles

Camp was a rocky slope that had a great view of Mt Shasta to the east. I woke up early but didn’t feel motivated to get moving so I opened the vestibule of my tent and lay there watching the sun rise over Mt Shasta. With the sun eventually full force in my face, I still didn’t feel like moving so I was slow to get out of camp. I heard Genna’s alarm go off (which is a little ditty lives in my head rent free) and pushed myself to move.

It was a day of long stretches of flat ridgline walking. Perfect podcast listening trail. I had lunch at Parks Creek Trailhead next to the cleanest smelling pit toilets ever. A nice lady brought fresh juicy peaches as trail magic. They were just the right amount of ripe. I sat in the shade eating and listened to the other hikers talk about all the miles they’ve been crushing. I’m not sure when this happened but doing 30s is the new 20. Which is wild to me. And everyone just acts like this is a normal acceptable thing. I only point this out because in my new found “happy to be on trail” mindset, doing 30 miles a day is the quickest way to get me off trail. Not cool bro.

I was putting on my shoes after lunch break and broke off the hook thingy on one of my gaiters. So I left both of them off. It’ll be an interesting experiment to see how dirty my feet get. The miles after lunch were still cruisey, but also very hot. For some reason I had to keep stopping and stretching. I think flat miles are harder on my feet.

Surprisingly I made it to camp first. This is a truly astonishing feat, as the group usually passes me about 1000 in the morning. I got first pick of the sites! The water source was a slow spring, but apparently abundant because there was a large amount of California pitcher plants, or Cobra Lilies. They are carnivorus and poisonous to animals but a good indicator of water nearby. I ate dinner with the group once they caught up (lol) and watched the sunset light up my tent.

These three look like they’re having a meeting that you just interrupted.

Day 117: 19.1 miles

I spent the morning ruminating on recovery. Because that essentially is what this trip is about. Recovery from trauma. Recovery from depression. Recovery from alcohol. It takes time, and I was thinking on ways to allow myself grace. I expect so much of myself, too much, and of course get angry when I don’t meet my own impossibly high standards. But recovery doesn’t have a time frame or rigid schedule. I just have to gently keep reminding myself that I’m exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what is necessary. And here’s the essential part: forgive myself when I forget that.

I spent the 10 miles down to Hwy 3 thinking about this. Also thinking about how I could get a sandwich at the Callahan Emporium if I could just find a hitch. It became my happiness goal. Its dangerous, I know, but it flung a craving on me as my Dad would say*. I had told the others about sandwich obtaining but they didn’t seem as enthusiastic. I arrived at the crossing to see that it was a slow traffic road but patiently waited. Ten minutes later a line of motorcycles went by but still no cars. I was about to give it up as a bad cause until another bunch of motorcycles passed this time with a car following.

I flagged down the car who probably thought I was having an emergency in hindsight. Judd and his dog Wigglebutt agreed to drive me down to Callahan. He was on his way to check out a Fifth Wheel to buy and possibly put on his property. 10 minutes later I stood before one of the three buildings in the hamlet of Callahan. Inside I quickly ordered to sandwiches and bought cold drinks. It was almost lunchtime and locals(?) started trickling in. I gobbled down one of the sandwiches and began the task of hitching. I didn’t want to get too far behind my group. Three nice ladies on their way back from a backpacking trip offered me a ride back to trail. All in all it only took an hour and ten minutes. And I packed out a sandwich for dinner!

The next 8 miles were an afternoon slog fest in the direct sun and humid heat. I entered the Trinity Alps and had some more interesting mountains to look at. But always there is Mt Shasta lurking in the background. First we went north, then west, the south for a bit, the east again. ALWAYS Mt Shasta is somewhere on the horizon. It feels like we’re walking circles around it…or that we never left. OoOoOOooo. Spooky.

I got to camp and my group was surprised to see me so soon. They kinda thought I’d get stuck down in Callahan. I laughed and told them it took less time than normal lunch. Then my glasses broke. I feel like maybe I’ve been cursed by Mt Shasta?

*I also tried to remember all my Dad’s favorite sayings, these are just a choice few:

  • Crazier than a run over dog
  • Finer than frog’s hair
  • Good enough for government work
  • That dog won’t hunt
  • I’ll bet you ten dollars to a donut
  • If I tell you a rooster dips snuff, you ask what brand
  • Don’t start me to lyin
  • That’s for sure and that’s for certain
  • (When going home) Quicker than a barn sour mule
  • [Some influence] flung a craving on me
Froggy, Grampa, TJ, and Choo choo

Day 118: 22.1 miles

Today was rough. It had all the things I hate. I kept picturing Stefon from SNL listing it out. If you don’t know who that is, go Google it real quick and then come back.

Let me tell you about the PCT’S newest trail. It’s got everything! Downed trees, overgrown trail, steep exposed climbs, burn areas, and everybody’s favorite: hot blasting sun!

Got to camp and met a guy from Hiawassee and we talked about accents for awhile. A totally unbothered deer wandered around camp for most of the evening. I set up on a slope, so not much rest was had.

I got long legs now!
The trees were bleedingnthis red sap. It was sad.
This climb took forever.
I didn’t take many pictures today. Night night.

Day 119: 8.7 miles

I realized my sunglasses were broken this morning. This must be the part of the trail where things just get slightly annoying. Or the Mt Shasta curse is real. I didn’t take any chances and the next time I spotted it to the east I offered it a formal apology for possibly offending by telling everyone the stories about the Lemurians.

Shortly after that it was a short 2 miles to the trailhead that would take me to Etna! The hitch there, we all sat on the driver’s camping stuff and before he got in the cab he told TJ “we don’t got brakes so we’ll be taking it slow” lol.

Town day! Etna had $5 camping in their city park, toilets/shower, cheap-ish food, an awesome outfitter, and a free pool. It’s is a cute little town that really likes hikers. Got some resupply here and did some laundry. I saw that fella who wasn’t taking a shower or laundering for the whole trip and his shirt looks GROSS. I don’t know why, I didn’t ask. That would require getting near him.

I also saw a Ford Courier! It’s the same truck that I inherited from my Grampa at 16. It was constantly breaking down and had a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass cassette stuck in the 8 track player (which didn’t work anyway). It’s the first time I’ve EVER seen a Ford Courier other than mine out in the wild. I kinda lost my shit and TJ and Genna were flummoxed I’m sure.

So this and finding a working telephone booth has made me think this town doesn’t exist in the “normal” space time continuity that the rest of us live in.

Sorry Mt Shasta
The truck had brakes, they were just squeaky
I’m the first one to pin Columbus!
TJ and Genna finally get their matching Pokémon hats.
This shirt was the same color as mine.
A mother flippin Ford Courier!

Day 120: 0 miles

We took an unexpected zero. Genna is waiting on pretty important package that won’t get into Etna until tomorrow. Me and TJ are staying with her, while Froggy and Grandpa had already gotten back on trail. To be honest I wasn’t very mad about it. We got to eat more and go to the pool. I meandered around the thrift store. Ate some pizza and got a food massage. Not bad for an unplanned zero.

I rung the hook!
Genna repackages her butter.

Day 121: 0 miles

We decided to skip up to Seiad Valley so we could keep together with Froggy and Grampa. But then TJ and Genna went ahead to the river to wait out the heat while I stayed at the General Store. Some locals came by and asked if anybody wanted a ride to the top (it would skip a 6000 ft climb) and I took them up on it. My pals didn’t want to go. I’m not above skipping a climb though.

Another hiker Lindsay went with me though and we had a harrowing ride up a bumpy mountain road that I’m not entirely sure the driver could see. Setup camp and realized that I could be in Oregon the next day. So I told TJ and Genna I’d go ahead and I’d see them in Ashland.

Day 122: 21.4 miles

I woke up excited to get going for once. The climbs were easy in the early morning air. I kept slowing down to take pictures of all the wildflowers in bloom. They’re mostly the same as what has come before. There are more Lilies though and I can’t stop marveling at all the wild beauty. Bees buzz on long mountain slopes of Horse Mint and butterflies flit from Mountain Pennyroyal to Yarrow. I walked along wide open ridgelines with the ever present Mt Shasta in the blue distance. My happy today was just stopping when I wanted to photograph the little things without feeling guilty of “losing miles”.

Late in the afternoon I made it to Donomore Cabin which to be honest was kinda creepy. It had a picnic table and fresh cold spring water so I cooked dinner and contemplated my immediate future. I sipped some Sonic brand Cherry Limeade (added to water, seriously the best!) and evaluated the pros and cons of continuing vs camping in this creepy spot. The inside was crowded with cots and camping detritus and the surrounding ground was all sloped which would make tenting uncomfortable. When some SOBOs showed up wanting to camp there I made my decision: to Oregon!

It was only 1.7 to the Oregon border and I felt the excitement push my legs up the hill. I was finally going to get out of California! When I got to the marker I was all alone. The trail log was full of hikers marking their passage and I think I might be in a bubble. There were at least 40 names on this day alone. I took some pictures and a moment to congratulate myself. It was only a little further to camp and I’d be getting there relatively early! I treated myself to eating absurd amounts of candy and reading a book. It was fitting end to the day and a huge chunk of the trail.

A seat with a view, and yes that’s Mt Shsta in the distance
First campsite in Oregon!

The PCT – NorCal – Days 103 – 113

Day 103: 0 miles

Kat decided to go back home and made arrangements that meant leaving Truckee today. We went to the bakery and ate the tallest cinnamon roll I’ve ever seen. After saying goodbye at a traffic light I headed to the other side of town to try and get a hitch to Graeagle.

TJ and Genna were in Sierra City planning to hitch there as well. Zane (another group member) has a friend with a brewery in Graeagle and was going to let all of us camp in the back. This driving force behind all this hitching was going to see a fireworks show for the 4 of the July. For reference this was the 3rd.

So I was feeling midly nervous about hitching by myself, especially to a town nowhere near the trail. I made a sign out of a brown paper bag hoping advertising the destination would help. I hoofed it about a mile and a half to a highway roundabout and stuck out my sign and thumb. Three cars later someone stopped!

Casey was going to Quincy for a music festival and apparently gave PCT hikers rides all the time. He told me a story of how in 2000, he and his girlfriend made a 6 week cross country trip on $450. We both marveled at how that’d be nearly impossible now. In a short time we entering the odd town of Graeagle all festooned up with patriotic decorations getting ready for a parade. It looked like a summer camp turned town and had a creepy Stepford planned vibe about it. Casey dropped me off at the brewery to find out that I beat everyone there. So there’s me, practicing sobriety on the patio of a very nice brewery.

I didn’t wait too long. Everyone showed up about 30 minutes later. We walked into the town after the parade and found out the fireworks were yesterday. The group was bummed, but then ice cream and hot dogs were had. A small lake (more of pond) enabled TJ, Genna, Zane, and Dimitri to rent a paddle boat and hilariously paddle around in circles. The boat didn’t look like it was made to fit four grown adults.

Back at the brewery, drinks were had (by the group, not me) and corn hole was played. I was feeling sleepy and just wanted to lay down. But then I also felt hungry – a dilemma. We obtained a dinner of burgers and milkshakes at the Frostee. Finally the brewery was closed and we set up sleepy times in the back. We all cowboy camped behind the building and next to an old Chevy. It had a Club lock on the steering wheel which I found funny. I went to sleep with the milky way appearing above as darkness fell.

Day 104: 0 miles

We woke pretty early and went to eat at the only restuarant in town aptly named the Graeagle Restuarant. The pancakes were mediocre, but filling. We said goodbye to Dimitri, Twiggy, and Zane who were being picked up at the brewery.

Genna, TJ, and I decided to skip around an upcoming burn area from last year. There are many safety reasons to do this, but mainly I find it depressing to walk through burns. Also I was just getting over being sick and inhaling a bunch of ash wasn’t on the agenda. Skipping around this chunk of the trail meant missing the half way point and Mt Lassen though.

We walked over to the main road with a hand written sign on cardboard to try and hitch to Quincy and from there to Old Station (where we’d get back on trail). Luck was with us and after five minutes a couple in a large pickup with a camper shell picked us up. We rode in the bed of the truck because the lady said “no offense, but I don’t know you.” Which was…odd. Thirty uneventful minutes later we were let out in front of a Sav More in East Quincy.

The next leg of the journey was going to be tougher because Old Station is a blip on the map and far away. Still we put out our thumbs and hoped for the best. We were lucky again when a couple (in the sense that they were two people, not together) on their way back to Oregon from a recent music festival stopped and offered us a ride. I don’t think Derek and Wren knew what they were getting into, because the trip was two hours and back roads. I paid the “this is going too well” tax when Derek slammed the hatch back door on my right hand. It didn’t break anything but it felt like I could’ve ended up with a new fashionable hand piercing.

I thought I’d be missing out on seeing Mt Lassen and was slightly bummed about it. I’d heard that the Mt Lassen NP was greatly underrated and a really cool place to explore. As more luck would have it the drive to Old Station ended up going through the park and it was the non burned side! Mt Lassen loomed overly large and was draped in gray clouds. We stopped at a couple of points and the views were spectacular. To the east you could see the burnt section and it looked sad.

Eventually we made it to the gas station that comprised the “town” of Old Station. Derek and Wren left with our gratitude and promises to keep in touch. For a gas station in the middle of nowhere, it was pretty well stocked and they seemed happy to see us. The lady at the cash register said that we were allowed to camp out back and they’d leave a bathroom open for us to use. I got a microwaved spicy chicken sammich which to be honest was pretty good. We ate at a picnic table (off the ground!) and set up our tents on a soft bed of pine needles.

Day 105: 16.2 miles

I slept nice and cozy despite the road sounds, and woke up quite late – 0700! I waited around for Genna ans TJ to get going. They are late starters, but thus afforded me the time to enjoy a fresh hot cup of coffee from the gas station.

We were getting back on trail which was nearby the gas station and the first order of business was to take a detour to see the Subway Caves. It was a lava tube turned tunnel cave that was 0.4 miles off trail. Just as we got to the entrance, it started to sprinkle. The floor was uneven and the ceiling low. I thought it would just be great if I broke an ankle on thus side trip. But it was pretty cool, literally. The temperature was 15 degrees cooler. It was a short walk so there wasn’t enough time for the mole people to rally and I exited safely.

The actual trail after was still slightly burned but once we climbed up to Hat Creek Rim it turned green again. I tried to keep up with Genna and TJ but my natural slower pace kicked in and I fell back. Once up on the rim I didn’t feel like hurrying though. It was a wide open view to Mt Lassen in the south and Mt Shasta to the north. A expansive green and brown valley nestled into the mountains and the shelf of land I was walking on.

The sun was bright in between the clouds and there was a slight cooling breeze. I saw a new wildflower: Bunchleaf Penstemon. The blue-purple was wild in person. I kept thinking there should be a name for this color, it was so glowy and vivid. I also spotted a new type of Mariposa Lily, the Sagebrush. I feel a special connection to this flower because 1. My pack is a Mariposa and 2. It is Spanish for butterfly which reminds me of my grandmother. I also started encountering the towering Ponderosa Pines whose presence seemed enduring and protective.

I realized as I walked that the mood I’d been in was gone. I don’t know if it was that big emotional outburst on Carson Pass, having five days off in a row, or the change of scenery, but I was feeling mentally energetic and excited. I could finally pinpoint my issue: being seen as a fraud of a hiker by others. And I also realized that finally, really, didn’t care. It’s one thing to say you don’t care, it’s another to feel it. I was so caught up in the competition to be “The Best Hiker” I forgot to just be present. The worry and effort I put into appearance and expectations was an extra weight in my pack I didn’t realize was there. I’m not entirely certain what finally made it click, but it feels great (and ultralight lol).

Day 106: 17.7 miles

Today started at my normal time, so the early morning coolness was a treat as I finished the Hat Creek Rim. The trail came down into big cow pastures full of volcanic rocks. At a pond one lone cow limped over go slurp up some water and kept giving me cow eyes.

The heat started to ramp up as the trees became more scarce. The trail ran over lava gravel beds that found every hot spot in my foot. I ate lunch under a large oak where TJ and Genna passed me. They were wanting to get to the lake for lunch. A hydroplant maintained Baum Lake and was open for recreational use. There was a nice grassy beach with access to the water below. TJ and Genna took a swim, but I didn’t want soggy underwear the rest of the day.

The trail skirted the lake for half a mile and then climbed up into a piney forest with a cool breeze. The next couple of miles flew by and then I was at the road to go into Burney. As we walked down the road to a turn out for easier hitch, we immediately got a ride from a section hiker who was done.

Even though we were only on trail for two days, I was entirely dirty. The trail was covered in what looked like a fine layer of cocoa powder. Each step sent up a puff of silty dust that caked my legs. Everything I set on the ground was covered and I’m pretty sure I ate some of it too. So I was ready for a shower.

The Word of Life Church in Burney offered a free place to stay in their gym building and included access to a kitchen and bathroom/shower. We managed to find a room with A/C which was a real treat. After cleaning up I went to McDonalds because I’d been craving their fries. TJ and Genna went to the Rex Club for dinner which sounds a lot fancier than it was. Imagine an old timey bingo hall full of taxidermy serving steaks. I went to meet them and ordered some fried mozzarella sticks with a mean eyed duck watching me. I asked why they didn’t just go to the drive-in across the street because they have milkshakes. A plan was hatched for Genna to go across and get milkshakes (which our server approved) and bring them back to drink while we ate our other food. It was so thru hiker. I ate food on the way to another restaurant and got more food from a other place to bring back while I ate the other food.

Day 107: 7.1 miles

Woke up today to go do our laundry and eat at the Blackberry Cafe. Of course I had pancakes. We were slow to gather our things and finally make out way out of town. Hiker that TJ and Genna knew showed up named Ellie and Yardsale. They planned to summit Mt Shasta on Ellie’s birthday which put a fire under our butts to get going. TJ and I didn’t want to go up Mt Shasta, but of course we wanted to stay with Genna so we were looking at some bigger miles.

We tried to hitch at one spot on the road without much luck. Genna wanted to go to Grocery Outlet to look for some powdered milk and it was only a little ways down the road. On our entry into the parking lot a Sprinter van pulled up next to me and asked if I wanted a ride back to trail. Ha! I went into the store to find Genna and said “so a guy in a white van wants to give us a ride” which as I spoke it heard it and laughed. OG had hiked the PCT and was spending the day giving hikers rides to and from the trail and then camping in his van.

Back on trail, my feet started to immediately hurt which was weird. My legs looked like I didn’t even take a shower because of the dust. But the trail was flat and easy and we made it to a very nice campsite in very short time. It was a forest service tun campsite that had picnic tables and a very clean pit toilet. Such luxuries!

Day 108: 22.1 miles

It was oddly cold this morning, but the pit toilet was warm and made for a pleasant morning constitutional. I headed out first with TJ and Genna still abed. Burney Falls was less than a mile away and by all acounts worth the side trip.

Twenty minutes later I was down in front of a massive waterfall and getting misted by frigid water. I spent an hour here looking at all the things. I learned that the water for the falls came from the snowmelt from nearby Burney Mountain. It travels underground in natural concrete channels until it is forced up to the surface less than a mile from the falls. It was pretty impressive.

Back on trail it was a couple of miles until crossing the Britton Dam which was being worked on. You had to honk an airhorn to summon an escort to cross the bridge because of the construction and a nice named Rod walked me across. He was tracking where everyone was from and said I was the first person he’s met from Georgia.

On the other side of the trail went up onto a hot and exposed ridge for awhile. Then a different type of forest started. There were still pines, but more deciduous trees like oaks, alders, and maples were found. There even some ferns.

I rounded a bend and came upon an open ridge with an explosion of wildflowers. In the distance I got my first real view of Mt Shasta. It was just sitting there all big and mysterious…and covered in snow. I made it to camp and watched the sunset through the trees while my feet throbbed.

Someone thought they were being tricky

Day 109: 23.5 miles

I got going early because we’d planned to go even longer today. It was glorious wide open views of Mt Shasta straight off. Mostly today was long walks along ridgelines including one that was along an old road bed. It was sunny and breezy with a caliedoscope of colorful wildflowers. There were crimson Paintbrushes, purple Penstemons, yellow Lupines, orange Skyrockets, and white Yarrow. Butterflies and bees buzzed around. It was absolutely gorgeous and awe inspiring. For five minutes everything was alright with the world. Then the overgrowth hit and I had to fling my body through some bushes. Lol

Day 110: 20.7 miles

It was very hot and humid today. We all wanted to get to what has been rumored to be the best swimming hole on the PCT. It was a long hot slog off a day and by the time I got to the the creek with the swimming hole I didn’t even feel like getting in. I made myself sit in the creek though and my feet cramped up. I felt a little fresher.

Day 111: 16.3 miles

More heat and humidity today. Genna went ahead to get into town so she could get to the trailhead at Mt Shasta. Me and TJ were able to go a slower pace. We got to the Sacramento River early in the afternoon. We chilled out under the bridge like trolls and splashed around in the creek. It wasn’t until I’d washed my legs that I’d noticed dead fish and crawdads at the bottom downstream. After getting out of the water a rancid fishy smell emanated from my skin. So now I was still hot and sweaty and smelling of fish. It made for an uncomfortable evening.

Day 112: 0.2 miles (it still counts!)

There were a lot of hikers at the bus stop that would take us into Mt Shasta. It would seem we hit a bit of a bubble and it made for a stinky ride. The few locals on the bus were bemused but curious. As soon as the bus stopped in Mt Shasta I snatched TJ and went down to the Black Bear Diner. Hordes of hikers were soon to follow. I had the best pancakes on trail here. After that we did town stuff and after getting to the hotel I had the most amazing shower ever. Genna showed up later (or maybe it was her Lemurian clone) and regaled us with tales of the climb. I’m not going to get into it, but look up Mt Shasta and Lemurians for a wild ride.

The fingers make this sign weird

Day 113: 0 miles

Town stuff. Froggy and Grandpa caught up with us in town. We went to see Thor. It was okay. Back on trail tomorrow.

The PCT – NorCal – Days 91 – 102

Day 91: 10 miles

I slept okay in the bunk room, could have used some more. I’ve been feeling really run down lately and could easily sleep all day. Kat was going to try to get a hitch up to South Lake Tahoe to rest her foot. She’s got plantar fascitis and it’s been really hurting. TJ and Genna had left the day before, so for those of you keeping up this put me on my own again.

We caught the 1100 shuttle and I started on the trail around 1145. My pack felt so light and balanced but despite this I didn’t feel great about starting the trail so late in the day. I knew I wasn’t going to get very far. Kat managed to find a hitch almost immediately all the way to South Lake Tahoe and as I was climbing up the northern face of Sonora Pass in the gusty winds, I was regretting my decision to not go with her.

The climb up wasn’t too bad and I found a stand of scrub pines to huddle in for a quick wind break. I began to feel more energetic and I think the full hot breakfast and 3 urns of coffee I’d drunk at Kennedy Meadows North were being put to work.

The trail curled around the back of the mountain and into some confusing snow covered hills. The path was buried and it took me an extra 30 minutes to pick my way through rapidly melting slush. The rest of the day was a mild ridgeline walk next to a rushing creek. I managed to get 10 miles before it started to get dusky. I climbed up to campsite with a nice view of the colorful mountains on the other side the valley.

As I sat in my tent eating dinner I thought about how I just completed the Sierra. (!!!) The technical hard part was done and I did it. I wondered why I didn’t feel a sense of accomplishment. I realized it is because of thru hiker culture.

To be brief, what passes for thru hiker culture is often predicated on what the skinny white boys with tiny packs and 2 inch inseams are doing. They crush miles with smiles on their faces. And if you don’t hike that way, then you aren’t a thru hiker. It’s that insidious competition that I’ve been trying to ignore, but it’s really hard when that is all you see.

Back to me though, I’m on the older side of the hiker demographic, I weight more, my joints are creaky, and my pack is not ultralight. I don’t like crushing miles. I prefer to take it slow. I don’t really care about bagging peaks. I actually like being in the forest. I don’t fit the thru hiker mold. And yet, I’m still out here doing it. It’s hard to release those notions about what makes a thru hiker. Especially since the fast ones constantly pass me. It’s kinda demoralizing. I guess to I’ll just have to reconcile that I’m not a good thru hiker…and that’ll have to be okay.

Day 92 – 19.2 miles

A deer came right through my camp last night and curiously sniffed around my tent. As I moved to get my phone for a picture, the noise scared it away. I started early with the intent to catch up with TJ and Genna. Today was a lot of random up and downs. The terrain became more arid and volcanic.

I thought about a lot of things but I can’t even remember what they were. I certainly didn’t solve any world problems. I think at some point I reached that lovely quiet mind state where even my thoughts are sick of themselves and they shut up. It was just me walking through the woods, breathing and being. It doesn’t last long though.

I set up camp on a sandy cliff side with epic views of the mountains in the distance. I never caught up with my friends.

Day 93 – 16.1 miles

I woke up briefly around 0300 to rain pattering on my tent. I was confused as to my location but went back to sleep. When I woke for real, my tent was mostly dry so I questioned if I even really heard rain. The ground was damp though, and the sky was still heavy with dark clouds. As I started towards Ebetts pass it started to patter rain on me. It’s the first time I’ve been in rain on trail.

I got to Ebbets pass and crossed a road there. On the other side was a trail angel named Chipmunk who had a tent set up and making breakfast for hikers. He also had the holiest of holies: hot fresh coffee. I swear there was also an angel choir singing behind this man too. I sat to a warm meal of over medium eggs covered with chili, hashbrowns, and toast. There was also cereal and whole milk. It was such a morale boost in the dreary weather. He even had a fleece blanket I snuggled in while delaying my departure.

Soon though I had to leave, and gave Chipmunk my profound gratitude. I clambered over one rocky mountain down into an odd little valley. On one side it was all green forest and on the other was a wall of volcanic rock. It looked like I was literally straddling two worlds. On the volcanic side were these large balls of what seemed to be coarse concrete embedded with large rocks. The trail was bordered by sage, sweet grass, and mint. The moisture in the air kept the morning fresh with herbal fragrance.

The trail went up through more sandy mountains and to the top of a large bald. Off in the distance a large ominous cloud was dumping rain. I scuttled across the mountain and as I was reaching the tree line a flash of lightning screeched across the sky followed by rumbling thunder. I bolted down the trail cutting switchbacks to get to the treeline. As the rain started pelting me, I hunkered down in the towering Hemlocks. The rain didn’t last long, but the thunder did. It made me nervous to continue as I could see that the trail went out into the open again. I sat there for about an hour waiting for the weather to clear.

Finally I got going again, but my energy was gone. I dipped in and out of forests and big boulders. I just couldn’t muster the momentum to try and catch my friends. I settled for the night next to pond with an active aviary presense. Ducks and chickadees and other various birds had their say this night.

Day 94 – 14.6 miles

My day didn’t start well. The terrain was rocky and there were some sketchy snow patches. Other hikers were passing me left and right. I’d come to the conclusion I wasn’t going to catch up with my trail friends. So I slowed down even more.

There was a long hot slog of a climb up Carson Pass. Thru hikers I’d never seen before whizzed past me with looks of puzzlement. Like why are you so slow? Irritated, I climbed and climbed. It looked like I was almost done when I turned a corner and saw even more climbing. And there was the sketchiest of snow crossings yet. Something inside me snapped. I had to sit by the trail and have a long cry as even more hikers passed me by. I felt lonely and homesick and emotional…apparently. Just pitiful.

I made it to the other side and saw a day hiking gentleman wearing a Carhartt shirt that looked a lot like my Dad and it made me weepy again. I had to come to grips with my emotions but they seemed to be running hog wild today. I cry shuffled towards the trailhead and buttoned it up as I walked towards the Info hut. There they had cold sodas and cookies for hikers. As I sat in the shade munching on Chips Ahoy, I decided I was going to hitch to South Lake Tahoe from here. I felt immediate bodily relief.

So that is what I did. I got a hitch from two nice ladies named Phyllis and Carol and got a bunk at the Mellow Mountain Hostel. I kept wanting to call it Mellow Mushroom. I showered and laundered and ate and slept.

Day 95 – 97: 0 miles

My friends showed up at the hostel last night wondering how I beat them there. Genna had planned to get a Airbnb and we were all going to take it easy for a couple of days. Zero days are boring to talk about, mostly because nothing happens. Although Genna did make some from scratch pancakes that were phenomenal. And I watched the new Obi Wan Kenobi show (can’t recommend it).

Day 98: 12.6 miles

I woke up feeling…not great. Almost like I was hung over. I had eaten a steak the night before and thought maybe that was it?

Got back on trail and the discovered I was also congested. There wasn’t much to do at this point but keep going. I walked in a fog of fatigue and snot most of the day. There was some beautiful scenery with Lake Tahoe off in the distance.

I got to camp, ate a little, and then passed out hard.

Day 99: 16.3 miles

I woke up feeling slightly better. It’s like a sinus thing now. I didn’t get going until late as I kept dawdling at camp. The climbs were gentle and mild. Big fields of wildflowers carpeted the mountain side. I kept slowing down to take pictures and video.

There was a long ridgeline walk out in the open after Tinker Knob. The winds were fierce and kept wanting my hat. There were 360 view of the surrounding land but I had to keep my head down looking for tricky rocks that wanted to trip me.

The trail went back into the trees and Genna pointed out there was a ski hut up the hill. We went to go look at it, but it was closed due to Covid. (Unofficially though, you could still get in). More interestingly was a two story privy with a trap door in the roof. I’m assuming it was made this way for the snow times. Genna asked if it was a rampart. It did sort of resemble a guards station.

Next was an even more sketchy snow patches that we had to cross. I made it most of the way across before falling on my butt. Luckily I was already on the safe side of the snow and only slid to the ground. It was more annoying than anything else. From there is was a quick walk over to Donner Pass (yes that one). There was a Ski Ranch that was purported have hot food and give out free 40s of beer to hikers. I just wanted water.

I got there to meet TJ and Genna saying that the power was out. I ended up having a piece of pie while we waited for Kat to show up. I commented that since there was no power (= no food) we’d have to eat other instead…and then die of hypothermia. Har har.

We ended up going half a mile up the trail to camp and found Kat whose foot was hurting bad. We nestled into the rocks and boulders with Truckee out in the distance and a closed highway running to it. Around midnight I woke up to pee and was treated to a dazzling display of the Milky Way over the mountains. The ambient light of the stars was enough that I didn’t even need my headlamp. I sat taking pictures and enjoying the peace before the siren call of my sleeping bag drew me away to my tent.

Day 100 – 102: 0 miles

I woke up feeling worse. My entire head was a cotton ball and my throat was full of sandpaper. Still I though I might tough it out, but then I couldn’t stomach my breakfast. I got all nauseous and threw up. I sat in my tent for 30 minutes trying to force my body to act right but it wouldn’t listen. Reluctantly, I admitted I should go back to town and rest. At that moment Kat came by saying she was going into town, which was just serendipitous. Her foot was giving her too much trouble to continue on. We hatched a plan to get into Truckee and said farewell to TJ and Genna. I made plans with them to meet them later up the trail.

So me and Kat hitched to Truckee and got a room at the Redlight Hostel which used to be a brothel. I chugged some Nyquil and passed out.

Kat had the very difficult decision of whether to take a break or go home to Quebec. I knew her pain, but also knew only she could make that decision. I think she already knew what she wanted to do, but just couldn’t fully look at it yet.

I spent the next two days munching on throat lozenges and sleeping. I began to feel better by the end of the second day. I also began to get antsy about getting back on trail. TJ and Genna are ahead and I planned to skip ahead a little to meet them.

I keep thinking about when will things just be easy? I was starting feel physically strong and then this illness knocks me down a peg. Where is that trail magic that everyone talks about? When do things get soft and full of promise and fun? And how whiney does all that sound?

I know it takes me recognizing the good things, being grateful for every day out here. It’s hard though, to be that soft glowy person when you’ve spent the better part of your adult life erecting defense shields against the pain of the world. Especially when you’ve been fortifying them the past three or so years. How do you just let go of that? I keep thinking that the trail will provide the means to finding an answer to this. But it looks like I’m preventing my own changes with what I thought was my protection. Hiding myself away so I won’t get hurt. Not sure what the solution to this is. Walk? Not erase this whole post? Breathe? I keep thinking that maybe if I walk far enough and long enough I’ll discover the answer.

The PCT – The Sierra – Days 82 – 90

Day 82 – 4 miles

It’s getting harder and harder to leave towns. The comforts of showers and clean beds are too alluring. But also when I do get back on trail those desires fade quickly. My group dawdled until check out time and then went to a brewery so I decided to go ahead to the trail on my own. Once back at the trailhead the wind was kicking up and sending sand everywhere.

The original plan was to climb back up to the trail to a nearby tentsite for a relatively short day out. The walk back out was pleasant after the wind died down. I saw a pair of cinder cones called the Red Cones that looked more like red mounds if you ask me.

I got to the tentsite fairly early and it felt weird to stop so soon. I discovered there was cell service and after I set up camp spent some time downloading things. The group contacted me on my inReach to let me know that the plans had changed and they were getting on trail 8 miles further up. I was already ensconced in my tent and wasn’t going anywhere. So I’m on my own again.

That’s a Red Cone

Day 83 – 13 miles

I woke at my usual time to find that the woods were socked in with fog, so I went back to sleep for awhile. About an hour later a breeze kicked up and dispersed most of the fog so I figured it was time to get moving. There was still a bit of mist as I started walking lending the woods a dreamy quality. I was slowly meandering and not thinking about much.

By 0800 the trail started down into an open valley full of downed trees. The sun had burned away all the fog and I began climbing a ridgeline in the direct sunlight. The geological make up of the mountains seemed to change in this area. There was more basalt and towering formations.

The trail takes you by a view of the Devil’s Postpile, an impressive display of columnar basalt created 100,000 years ago by a lava vent. The view was a nice change. I kept going up through some pines that looked fake and had me questioning my sobriety. Like why did look like they just walked out a Chrsitmas store?

The rest of the day was uneventful. I climbed up a slope of sage brush, mullein and horse dung. Camp was a hidden spot on top of the mountain all to myself.

Day 84 – 10 miles

The day dawned bright and cool. A lovely rigdeline walk with a view of the valley and adjacent mountains in the soft morning light eased me into the day. Across the way I saw an alpine lake with a waterfall outlet into the valley below. I didn’t see any trails around it so I assume that it wasn’t tainted by human visitors.

The trail crossed back into the forest and spit me out above 1000 Island Lake. I took my lunch here watching the cold wind whip up the lake surface, literally making foam. I saw at least 15 JMT hikers cross by. You can yell them by their fresh happy faces.

I was feeling very lethargic and unmotivated in the afternoon. It didn’t help that the trail was all uphill in the rocks and full sunlight. I made it to Rush Creek and found a campsite hidden in the pines.

I spent most of the afternoon thinking on how I can be kind to myself and stopping early when everything feels like it’s dragging me down seems to be an adequate response. Also not berating myself for doing so. Easier said than done.

Day 85 – 19 miles

The moon was so bright last night, I had a hard time sleeping and I groggily watched the light changed in the east as the sun rose. I started walking through a large valley of alpine lakes with the stark mountains in the background, feeling tired and frustrated. I began the climb up to Donahue pass and it felt as hard as ever. I contemplated how beauty by itself means nothing to me. Here I was walking through an objectively beautiful landscape not feeling much. My cup wasn’t being filled by superficial views – my mind wasn’t allowing that. It made me further ruminate on what I do value: honesty, humor, clarity, and effort. I haven’t really figured out what that has to do with anything.

As I laboriously slogged through rocks and marsh I wondered when this would get less hard? I got to the top of Donhue Pass and noted that it was the start of the Yosemite Wilderness. I ate my oatmeal and heard another hiker yell talking to someone on the other side if the pass. She was relating some story about Colorado very loudly. I quickly moved on.

The snow coming down the pass wasn’t a problem – it was the rocks. The trail went down 3 or 4 long descents into magnificent valleys with lovely creeks and lakes glittering in the sunlight. My ankles and knees took a beating. I didn’t really care about how amazing the terrain was.

I didn’t stop for lunch because I was trying to hurry to the Tuolomne Meadows Post Office and General Store. I suppose if I had stopped to eat I might have felt better. But I’m so slow I needed to keep a faster pace to make the goal. I did manage to get there on time and pick up my package. I also bought a cold soda and it immediately made me feel better. I sat there outside the store for a few hours, but I soon had to get moving. Hikers had to camp 4 miles outside the meadows which meant another 2 hours of walking for me.

The flat path along the a Tuolomne River was a soothing change. The trees offered shade and the path was soft. I was rounding one corner and heard my name called out. It was TJ, Kat, and Genna from the group, already setting up camp. I decided to stop and camp with them. After eating I laid down, thinking about my day. I wonder if I’ll ever be good at this?

I had a very optimistic ETA.

Day 86 – 16.2 miles

I slept in until 0600 which was nice. The sun dried my tent before I broke camp. The trail walked through some big boulders and rock formations. They made me think of Planet of the Apes. I came to an overlook of a massive valley that I’d be walking through. The trail descended Tuolumne River with a bunch of waterfalls. However with big descents a big ascent must eventually come. The rest of the day was climbing.

At the end of the day we stopped Miller Lake to enjoy the water. The wind kept most of the mosquitos away. I just soaked my feet as I didn’t want to get my clothing wet. After a relaxing hour on the beach, me and Kat kept going to catch up with Genna and TJ.

On the way up one incline, another hiker passing by shoved his beshirted elbow next to mine and said “Nice shirt!” It took me a second to process that he was wearing the same shirt as me, but his was entirely brown and crusty. I exclaimed and jumped away from him, but he’d already moved along. There is a sub-contingent of hikers that think it’s a badge of honor to not wash or launder. They’ll do these unhygienic challenges for reasons only known to them. I think it goes without saying that I do not subscribe to this ethos. We made it to a camp full of horse dung and I settled down for a fragrant night of sleep. And yes I recognize the irony.

Mosquito HQ

Day 87 – 17.7 miles

Today started out very dark and windy. The climb up Benson Pass was very cold and I began my final push up the mountain it began to flurry snow. Kat caught up with me on the way up. We stopped at the top where a fiesty marmot kept edging towards our snack crumbs. By then the weather turned sunny and windy.

We started down to Smedburg lake and the trail was hard to follow. The rock face didn’t allow you find foot prints and there weren’t really any cairns. We had to rely heavily on the GPS map. At one point the trail sharply switchbacked and we couldn’t find the trail anywhere. Me and Kat decided to go around and find the trail further down in elevation. This proved to be a mistake.

Our attempts to find the trail only less than .2 miles later proved fruitless. So then I suggested something really stupid. The trail made a large U turn and we could go all the way down the mountain and meet it 2 miles later. Basically it was just cutting a straight line down. The issue here is that we didn’t know what the terrain looked like at all. Kat said she trusted me and well, that was worrisome.

We went down into the brush and soggy marsh. A creek led us to the open face of the rocky mountain cliffside. I looked down searching the safest route and it seemed doable. We creeped down some natural switchbacks to another overview. We had to squeeze between a tree and rock wall to jump down to another shelf of granite. From here we could see some massive waterfalls that would form the creek the trail would cross. The rock cliff became steeper but I could finally see some trees ahead (which meant the bottom of the mountain). I was lucky to find some steep stone blocks that formed steps all the way to dirt. However I’d have to jump 6 feet down. I took off my pack and dropped it down first as I didn’t want its weight pushing me down. After an hour of tension and anxiety, Kat and I made it back down into the trees and found the proper trail. I yelped and danced around a bit. It was exhilarating to go off roading and survive! I don’t ever want to do it again.

Once back on trail we cruised down to a lunch spot and tried not to freeze. It was getting colder and the leaden sky didn’t offer any warmth. That afternoon was another huge climb down and up to Seavey Pass. On the way up were large rock steps that made it impossible to get a rhythm going. I was tripping over rocks everywhere and getting very frustrated. Got up to the top and found a old horseshoe near a lake.

The plan was to go another 2 miles to a tent site, but when I got there someone else had already set up and there wasn’t anywhere for us to set up. So I put on the jets and hoofed it down the trail to any place to set up. It was getting darker and cooler quickly. I kept turning a corner and going up-down in search of a some small plot to lay down. I kept finding nothing which was making me angry. On top of already being hungry, I was singularly focused on finding a tent site. I lost the group behind me for once and apparently they stopped at one place I’d deemed not-good-enough. I hangry hiked to Kerrick Creek and found a festival of sites. I set up and cooked my food. While it rehydrated I huddled in my sleeping bag with the hot bag of food cuddled against my chest. I’d been cold all day and finally felt warm for the first time. No one else showed up from my group, so I slept alone in the pines.

The only picture I took in that hour off trail.

Day 88 – 13.5 miles

Today started with a big climb out of Kerrick Canyon and down into Stubblefield Canyon. It was very steep up and down. I took a small break down at the creek in preparation for the immediate climb back up. I found a dead baby bird by my feet. I noted how unsurpised I was to find a dead animal near my person and kept eating my second breakfast. As I left I covered it in sand as a little burial.

Everyone caught up with me as I was climbing the second peak. It wasn’t technically a pass but it sure felt like one. We all had lunch at Wilmer lake where we all talked about how tired and frustrated we all felt. It has been a grueling section so far and validating to hear I’m not the only one feeling it. I had a nice nap in my sun warmed sleeping bag and woke feeling more energetic.

It was still cold even with direct sunlight. We ended the day with some gentle meadow hiking. The sky darkened and it started to pelt snow on us again. It looked like pretzel salt. I came up with a little song while wading through the freezing mud in the meadows. It is as follows:

To the tune of Elvis’ “In The Ghetto”

A creek runs through it

A mosquito is born

My shoes are muddy

And my pants are torn

In the meadow…

in the meadow…

Day 89 – 13.5 miles

I woke up to a tent covered in a thick layer of frost. I was slow to get moving. The freeze made it easier to walk on the mud as it wasn’t all squishy. The climb up to Dorothy Lake was mild and the pass right afterwards didn’t even seem like one. On the northern side I left the Yosemite Wilderness and it seemed like the terrain immediately changed. The far off mountains looked more arid and less green. The rock composition seemed less granite and more volcanic.

I came upon the 1000 mile mark. My group had brought airplane bottles of some violently colored liquor to drink. I made it little “shot” of Mio water. It had caffeine in it so afterwards I shot off like a bullet. For the next 5 miles I practically flew up the trail.

Me and Kat decided to stop and camp while TJ and Genna went on ahead up a huge climb. We nestled into a stand of trees on a bald part of the mountain. It had an excellent view of the sunset. I slept pretty warm for once.

Day 90 – 10 miles

Today started with a big climb up a sandy incline partially covered with snow. I fell trying to avoid the snow and slipped on rocks. Once up top, the dramatic views really diverged from what the Sierra had been. On one side was the green and blue Sierra and in front of us was a brown red rocky landscape. We were definitely coming to end of the Sierra.

There was a long line of easy ridgeline walking with occasional snow patches. Finally we made it to the climb down Sonora Pass and where Kat and I would try to hitch to Kennedy Meadows North.

On the way down I got caught in a mini tornado. I heard some odd noises in the bushes in front of me and I saw a weird dusty tail coming towards me. Before I knew it I was in a chaotic wind tunnel which was trying to lift everything off of me. I just sat down right in the trail and held onto my hat. Just as quickly as it came on, the wind died out, and I was left wondering what the hell just happened. What was even weirder was that there were no wind at all before this.

Kat and I made it down to the road and found a hitch with a nice man named Liang. He stopped because he though we had a flat tire or something and didn’t know we were hikers. At Kennedy Meadows North, an overwhelming crowd of vacationers crowded the general store. It’s funny to see the mixture of thru hikers, horse people, and casual vacationers. I procured a bunk and quickly took a shower. It’d been 8 days since my last one. This is also the place where most hikers get rid of their bear cans and pick up a resupply. I was going to spend the night here and try to compose myself for more hard stuff to Lake Tahoe.

The best of pooping views
The Sierra in the background
Right after the mini tornado

The PCT – The Sierra – Days 69 – 81

Day 69 & 70 – 0 miles

Spent some restful time in Bishop. Some of us moved over to the Eastside Guesthouse and Bivy which was some primo hostel accommodations. There were hammocks for me to laze about in. My new pack showed up finally and now I kinda feel like I’m abandoning my old pack lol.

I heard from Mick the Australian after he got to town. He’d been behind me the day we went over Forester Pass, but I kept going to get out of the weather and didn’t see him again. Apparently he stopped to help with a medical emergency on the way up Forester. A hiker fell and they had to start CPR as well as call for rescue. I heard that she had an aneurysm and didn’t make it. I kept wondering what I would have done had I been there. There isn’t much back country first aid you can do for an aneurysm bleed.

In other news, everyone has been stressing out about the food carry (8-10 depending on who you ask), the passes, the snow, and the overall difficulty of the upcoming stretch. And by everyone I mean me. I’ve got 10 days worth of food crammed into my bear cannister so I guess I’m ready to find out what I’m capable of.

Day 71 – 8.5 miles

We managed to find a ride back to trail pretty early which was nice because it was about an 8 mile climb back up to the PCT. I’d have to cross Kearsarge pass again. The naming of this pass has an interesting history. The USS Kearsarge sunk the CSS Alabama during the Civil War. Southern sympathizers named the rock formations around Lone Pine the Alabama Hills in honor of the Confederate ship. Northern sympathizers named a Pass, Lake, and Town after the Union ship. So I guess it was their own little naming feud.

The climb back up went surprisingly faster than I thought it would. It seemed to go on forever when I went down it, but I’m guessing that’s because I was extremely tired and hungry that evening. I got to the top of the pass in much better circumstances than before. The sun was shining and the breeze was cooling, not punishing.

Back on the actual PCT I started climbing towards Glen Pass. The original plan was to cross it, but I was glad to see my group stopped about a mile before. Everyone was feeling tired and not quite acclimated to the elevation.

A lot of hiking in the Sierra is determined by crossing the Passes. Conventional wisdom is to ascend the pass early in the morning so that the snow is still crunchy and stable. Crossing these passes can often involve traversing very steep slopes where one misstep can send you down the mountain to injury and possible death. Added to this is the element of higher elevation with its less pressurized air. So it has been the plan of most hikers to do one pass a day. This in turn makes hikers slow down and have to carry more food. Where some hikers may have been doing 25 mile days in the desert, now they are down to 12-15.

I was glad everyone had stopped. I’ve never hiked in the snow and never at elevation. I was having some severe anxiety about crossing Glen Pass in the afternoon after the sun had all that time to turn the snow into slush. Stopping early also had the added benefit of getting some choice spots only a mile from the pass.

I noticed on my way up how my new pack carried the weight better than my old one. I’d not noticed how much the padding and straps were worn down and so wore me down. It’s much more comfortable to have the weight dispersed appropriately. It even helps to splint my left chest that still hurts. I’m fairly certain it is a pulled muscle and you never realize how much you use your pectoral in everyday movement until it hurts.

Day 72 – 12.6 miles

I woke up super early and then fell back asleep. Finally got going around 0530. The climb up to Glen Pass (11,957 ft) wasn’t so bad. There was only one snow patch to cross and then a bunch of dry switchbacks. At the top was a small knives edge walk and then the beginning of the descent. There was no sign or plaque like on Forester. They just expect you to get on with it.

I put on my microspikes and began to pick my way across a steep slope of snow. There was already a path of steps tamped down by previous hikers. It led to an island of rocks that I had to scramble over (which is not fun in microspikes – it actually makes walking on rocks slipperier) and then began a knee crunching descent straight down.

I made it safely to the bottom and then looked up. It didn’t seem believable that I started way up there. I sat down to take off microspikes and eat my second breakfast. Incidentally I also almost got into an argument with another hiker about whether we were in Taurus or Gemini season. It went something like this:

Dude bro Canadian: Blah blah something something new moon in Taurus….

Me: No dude we’re in Gemini season now.

DBC: No it’s Taurus

Me: No it’s Gemini

DBC: What do you mean Gemini? It’s Taurus!

<Me being baffled at why I’m even engaging in this stupid argument.>

DBC: *pauses and then pompously* oh wait! you’re following Western Astrology. I follow Ayurvedic Astrology. [His words not mine]

<Me looking at this very white dude up and down very irritated, like is he not Western?>

DBC: Do you want me to explain the difference?

Me: No. *turns my back to DCB after throwing an epic bitch face at him.*

Cue awkward silence.

After that weird encounter I kept going down towards Rae Lakes. The raw beauty of fresh snow melted lakes, green pines, open blue sky, and fierce granite mountains brought out some raw emotions. I’ve noticed that such epic views bring up some junk for me and it doesn’t always correlate with my current situation. It’s like – oh were crying about that now? Okay I guess.

I saw Mick down on a peninsula between lakes just hanging out. Apparently he’d been there all morning catching some trout. I kept going to find my group and eat lunch by another lake. The rest of the day was a walk down into the valley that was just full of water everywhere. I crossed mile 800 towards the end of the day. Ended up camping 4 miles before Pinchot Pass.

Glen Pass
Mile 800

Day 73 – 11.1 miles

I got going a little late: 0600. The climb up to Pinchot Pass (12,127 ft) was a total slog fest. There were a couple of snow fields that were easily traversed. It was the climbing up on dry land that was so tedious. Also I just felt like a slug.

The landscape was harsh, all gray rock and frozen lakes. No trees or greenery to soften the austerity. I’ve noticed that the animals are smaller in this environment too. The chipmunks, pikas, and squirrels are tiny. The marmots however have no problems eating judging by their fat butts.

I couldn’t keep my breathing under control and my left chest still hurt. I found myself thinking about it was hard to see all the beautiful nature when you are in pain. All you begin to see is the way in which the rocks, snow, and water can hurt you. But it’s not nature’s fault that I’m hurting, it’s mine for putting myself in this situation.

Pinchot Pass

Day 74 – 17.8 miles

Mather Pass (12,094 ft) is the boogeyman of this section. Everyone talks about how dangerous this pass is and how you really have to be careful. It wasn’t too bad. There was one section of sand and rocks that were more sketchy than the snow, but I made it to the top with relative ease. Either I’m getting better at this or the whole thing was a blown up idea in my head. I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Coming down the other side of the pass was easy and the snow was cooperative with my efforts. The trail walked along the mountain walls to Palisade Lake. The slate gray sky reflected on the clear water. I ate lunch with TJ and Kat before descending 1000ft in one mile.

The rest of the afternoon was a mostly flat walk through a forested valley floor. The fragrant pines and quivering aspen framed a thrumming creek overfull with snow melt. Small deer (in relation to their fat southern cousins) idly grazed near the trail with seemingly no concern for the smelly humans passing by. I think I spotted a pine marten among the rocks. It was a lovely soothing walk amongst the trees and I barely noticed the miles. The enclosure of the forest seems more human scaled and make me feel sheltered with friendly trees.

Mather Pass

Day 75 – 14.3 miles

Muir Pass (11,970 ft) was a slushy slog fest from hell. Three miles before and five miles after the pass are covered in a thick blanket of snow. The way up was long and deceiving. Each time I’d round a mountain corner I’d find that I had another 1000 feet up another snow covered slope. The last push up to the very tippy top was a vertical wall with foot steps cut into the snow. By the time I reached the hut on top of the pass the snow was slushier than an Icee.

I ate some snacks but didn’t want to linger because I knew I’d have five more miles to push through and the longer the sun bakes the snow pack the slushier it gets.

My first step down the pass I postholed up to my knee. To be clear, that’s when your footstep punches through the snow to the ground beneath. Sometimes you might sink an inch, sometimes it’s a three foot drop. Sometimes you might hit rock, sometimes you’ll step in the creek beneath. It’s a miserable roulette of painful options and there was no other way but to go forward. It was tediously frustrating. At one point I started to preemptively kicking out the snow with high steps. It didn’t last long, because that’s very tiring. The sun reflected off the snow and despite the sunblock I put on I could feel my nose and lips cooking. In fact, later on I’d develop blisters on my lips.

Eventually the snow petered out and I found the actual trail. My feet dragged though the mud and rocks. Evolution lake laid out glittering in the sun looking all fresh and pretty but I didn’t care. I had less than zero energy and zombie walked around half the lake. Nearing the end of the lake was a small knoll of grass and four deer appeared out of nowhere. Their calm acceptance of my haggard form made me sit on a nearby rock and just stare at them. I took out a Clif bar and munched on it while the deer daintily picked through the greenery.

I found enough energy to continue a few more miles to camp with the group. It was a shelf of rock jutting out of the slope facing an epic mountain called The Hermit. I fell asleep the sounds of the creek rushing down the rocks.

Stupid Muir Pass

Day 76 – 17.7 miles

My tent was wet with condensation this morning and my sleeping bag was damp. Still, I slept pretty well. I started out earlier than everyone else because they tend to move faster than I do. The forest was serenely quiet as I passed meadows with the lazily flowing Evolution creek. I was determined to take it easy to today because there was no pass to cross.

The trail went down through a forest of cedars, pines, and aspens. The aspen leaves created a flickering shadow on the gravelly path before me. The cool air was thick with the mixed fragrance of astringent pine and musky cedar. I caught up with Kat and we wandered along side the San Joaquin River.

The trail ran along a canyon with the river rushing through the bottom. From above the water looks so clear and crisp it makes you thirsty just to look at it. The colors range from sky blue to Coke bottle green. After lunch Kat sped along and I was alone again. I crossed the Piute Creek on the newest looking bridge I’ve seen I’m back country.

Then began a long hard climb in the direct sun. Up until this point I’d only carried one liter of water because in the Sierra water is everywhere. Except for on this climb apparently. I got down to the last dregs of my water when I finally got to the top and a creek there. I flopped down on a rock to catch my breath and mosquitos immediately started their attack on my precious blood.

Camp was by the Sallie Keyes lake outlet or Mosquitoville as it’s better known. The estuary-esque creek had lively rainbow trout running up and down to eat their fill of the bugs. I ate my fill of dinner in my tent away from the bugs.

Day 77 – 17.4 miles

In the morning the surface of the lake was glassy and reflective of the mountains and trees. I thought the pictures I took looked like sound waves and wondered if they could somehow be transcribed into actual sound. The climb up to Selden Pass (10,913 ft) was relatively easy and didn’t seem like a pass at all. The switchbacks were easy and there was very little snow.

I bounced around the group most of the day but walked by myself. At lunch I had a Goldilocks spot: water, sun and shade, and flat spot – it was just right. It was a peaceful spot where I was able to do some trail laundry and dry out my socks. The rest of the day was a forested walk with occasional far off mountain views.

The climb up to camp at the end of the day was a real bummer. 900 ft of rocks in less than a mile. The last bit were some stone stairs of death with the late afternoon sun beating down on me. Finally made it to camp next to Mono creek and the mosquitos.

Selden Pass
I thought this tree looked like roast beef.

Day 78 – 14.9 miles

Silver Pass (10,778 ft) was the last pass of this stretch. It had a fun amount of crunchy snow and easy climbing. However, the acutal pass wasn’t the end of the climb. The High Point was and another 0.2 mile up. There was some more snow on the other side, but it stayed blessedly crunchy.

After the end of snow, the trail began an up and down through the forest. I saw some crows just chilling on a tree. There were lakes everywhere and creeks popping out of every corner. I began to think about how nature is supposed to be healing, but it seems the Sierra are all about tough love with surgical precision – not the hippy dippy love fest that most would expect. They strip away everything but the essential – the things you know you can’t live without. It unravels the lies you tell yourself and forces you to answer why are you doing this? What do you want? There is no looking away, because then you are standing still and stuck in the dangerous wilderness.

The deep thoughts soon gave way to daydreaming of town things: showers, hot food, and clean beds. My nose and lips were raw and peeling and I was yearning for some moisturizer. I planned out my first food purchase in town for a good 30 minutes while climbing a hot exposed hill to camp. For reference it included a lot of pancakes.

Camp was about 7 miles from the junction to Mammoth Lakes and it felt relaxing to not worry about passes or snow in the morning. The creek nearby provided water for dinner and a half hearted wipe down. There is no amount of creek water that could wash away this stink. It requires a fire hose.

Silver Pass

Day 79 – 10.6 miles

It’s town day! I tried to explain “It’s Rex Manning day!” to these kids I’m walking with, but I don’t think they got it. Where’s my 90s teens?

It was mostly down hill to the trail junction that would take us to the hamlet of Mammoth Lakes. My bag was light and my feet were fleet. Visions of buttered pancakes danced before me.

In a surprising amount of time me and Genna made it to the trailhead where we could board the free trolley into town. The group I’ve been walking with have an Airbnb in town that I’m staying at. We’ll rest up for a few days and most importantly GET CLEAN! Wooh.

Mile 900

Days 80 & 81 – 0 miles

Town stuff: showering, laundry, and food. Back into the Sierra soon.