The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 7 – 14

Day 7 – 0 miles

I wasn’t planning on taking a zero so early on the trip, but I sure am glad I did when I saw how miserably cold it was in Julian. I don’t want to know how bad it was on trail. I spent the morning sipping coffee and working on this blog.

At some point someone decide we should go out and get our free slice of pie at Mom’s. If you show your PCT permit, they’ll give you a piece of pie, ice cream and a drink! I got Apple Caramel Crumb with Cinnamon Ice Cream and a hot spiced cider. It was so delicious! I’ve heard some people say it’s not worth it come into Julian for the pie, but I didn’t listen because I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. Also it’s free pie.

Did some more walking around and then came back to watch Stranger Things. It’s back to the trail in the morning!

Day 8 – 13 miles

Got a lift back to the Sunrise trailhead and hopped back on trail. The sun was shining and the breeze was cooling. The first few miles went by fast with big open views that kept me smiling.

Then the trail dropped quite suddenly and sharply into a canyon and the trail felt a little bit like the AT. I stopped at the bottom to have lunch as I has no chance of catching up to Bethany and Chris. One PB and dried fruit roll up later Austin comes around the corner in his new shoes. We had left him in Julian this morning to buy new shoes as I think he was finally convinced the old ragged Nikes he’d been sporting might have something to do with his ankle pain.

At some point I knew I’d have to climb out of this canyon and shouldered my pack to get to it. I found Bethany and Chris at the next water source, which was a water tank off a dirt road. We did some yoga on top of the concrete tank. Well they did yoga. I mostly rolled around in pain trying to strike some sort of pose.

The air was cooling and we decided to push on to a further campsite. It was a surprisingly tough bit of trail climbing up and down canyon walls. Again, like the AT.

Camp was a flat-ish spot of sand that one might consider a wash. I kept smelling weed which freaks me out now, because that can mean Poodle Dog Bush is nearby. Or some people are having a “safety meeting” (what they call smoking on the trail). Either way, not cool man!

Day 9 – 17.9 miles

The walk down to Scissors Crossing was kind of epic in the morning. You cross a huge flat plain with mountain ranges in the distance and the wind kicking up. Once you are on the “bottom of the bowl” you can’t see the road or anything else that looks like civilization and you feel totally alone, like in an apocalyptic movie. But then someone comes along behind you to bring you back to reality and you realize that there is a bridge with water and trail magic up ahead to get to. If your next thought is Yay! I get to sit under a bridge and drink water, then you either might be me or a bridge troll.

After a bit of a break I began the climb up and over one of those mountain ranges that weren’t so distant anymore. Looking up from the bottom it seems impossible, or at least improbable that it could be completed in a day, but switchback after switchback brings you closer to the “top”. I put top in quotations because you don’t really go to the peak on the PCT, just right under it on a ridgeline, rounding the mountain to another one.

I found some shade and Bethany and Chris as well. They are faster than me at the moment, but tend to take longer breaks which keeps us about even on pace and within the same walking group. They moved on before me though.

About 3 miles into the afternoon stretch I encountered a rattlesnake. I was bopping along and almost stepped on it because it was in the trail. How rude. The yelp that came out of my mouth was so screechy and foreign sounding I looked around to see if anyone was behind me only to notice that I had FLEW backwards 6 feet. Well then. The snake didn’t rattle its rattle which I could very clearly see that it one and I told it that it was a breach of protocol to not give me some amount of warning. Instead it sat there hissing like an angry cat and breathing like one too. I could see it’s little snake belly inflating as it hissed its annoyance at me. I tried throwing some rocks near it to get it moving but the snake stubbornly sat on the impassable trail. I guess it got tired of hissing because after five minutes it side winded off into the bushes never taking its beady little eyes off me.

Well that kinda took the wind out of my sails, but I tried to push on. After another grueling climb it started to get cold and windy and I just wanted to lie down. I looked for the first flat spot I could find and made camp.

Day 10 – 14.6 miles

I got started kinda late as I was feeling fatigued. Also I “slept” on a slant, so I wasn’t feeling great. The third gate water cache was only a mile away, so I hurried there for morning time things. Also found Bethany and Chris there too. We decided to go to the market in Ranchita together, where apparently a shower could be had. The 10 miles there flew by with occasional stops to admire Horned Toads and to briefly acknowledge the 100 mile mark.

We got to the market which was a hiker central and took showers in the creepiest building. The desert people are an odd bunch and their idea of offering a service is not what I’m used to. I’m sure the same could be said for eastern mountain folk. But I was able to get some more snacks and hang out with the Yeti statue, so overall – a win.

Got back to trail and walked through some of the prettiest valleys. Big wide open spaces with a single path winding through it. One particular hillside reminded me of that Windows green hill wallpaper.

The campsite was San Ysidro creek which was a nice little green oasis of Oaks and an actual creek. The frogs came out at night time sing loudly and there were turkeys patrolling the outer perimeter.

Day 11 – 12 ish miles

This morning while digging my cat hole a turkey flew down from a tree above me and nearly scared me, well…. shitless. Those things are loud (and surprising) when flying.

Being near water made everything on my tent damp, especially my inner tent walls. But I got packed up and going early into the oddly misty morning. The climb was tolerable and I made it to some more open pasture lands but it was all covered in mist so that you could only see a few feet ahead. I kept wondering if I made it to the end of the game board.

A couple miles up was Eagle Rock, which doesn’t look like much from the side, but once you get in front of it, you’re like – oh it is an Eagle! Because of the mist there was a weak colored but perfectly formed rainbow framing the whole thing. Got my picture and kept moving because even at 0700 it is a very popular spot.

The pasturelands continued. As I crested on hill a herd of mostly brown cows stood on the path. Just standing there staring at me. I shooed them, but that didn’t seem to motivate them to move. Of course I had to ask them to moooooooove. They didn’t think it funny. I started walking towards them and they sort of shuffled away. A lighter brown cow with a white face kept eyes on me the whole time.

After the pasture was some pretty creek side walking complete with trees and grass, which was welcome.

I got to Warner Springs around 1030, and had to walk a road mile to get my resupply box. For some reason non-trail miles always see like a chore. Sat around and sorted my stuff and got back on trail with Bethany and Chris (who I will now refer to as B&C for brevity sake). We made it 3 whole miles to a creek where we promptly layed down and napped after eating lunch in the grass.

Photo by Bethany

The campsite was near Aqua Caliente creek and there we met some younger folks who apparently thought it would be a good idea to have a campfire. I wasn’t present for this as I already went to my tent. Luckily another hiker gave them a talking to, because no matter how careful you are it is really hard to out run a forest fire, especially in such a flammable state.

Day 12 – 18 miles

It was a big long climb out of the canyon that housed the creek. Lucky for us, it was cloudy and windy for most of the morning. I’m sure there was a pretty view out there. Around 1000 the trail cleared one side of the mountain went into totally different terrain, full of brush and thorns. At one point it felt like I was getting into a fight with the trail and losing badly.

Photo by Chris

Lunch was at the next water source, a water tank at Mike’s place. The tank itself was halfway down a private driveway and in years past hikers could go down to the house and stay or chill for awhile. I had heard conflicting reports of abandonment and possible squatters so I just got the water and left to eat lunch with B&C at the top of the hill.

After some time the heat wore off, but not enough. We climbed up 5 miles to our campsite, a lovely little grove of manzanita that shielded us from the wind

Day 13 – 15.2 miles

The morning was warm which should have been my first warning. I got going at 0650, so I was a little late, but the miles went fast until about 1030. There was a long and exposed climb out of a canyon that seemed to go on forever. My steps got slower and heavier. Every though I had plenty of water it was just So. Dang. Hot.

That is a water source

I found two large boulders that created a hallway of shade and promptly sat down for a break. It was only 1100. My breathing evened and my face stopped feeling like a red tomato. I turned to eating my lunch and gazing at the climb before me. A few brave hikers kept going and I could see their distant forms moving through the waves of heat.

B&C caught up to me and we all wallowed in the shade. For some reason I felt like 1400 was a good time to start packing up and walking. It felt cooler to me, but apparently not enough once outside the shade. The next four miles were some of the longest I’ve ever walked. I was just zombie walking and slowed to a shuffle. The next water source was a delightful water tank maintained by a trail angel named Mary. She even had covered picnic benches and a little library. I shuffled in, grunted a response to the general vicinity of people and lay down in the shade.

I came to around 30 minutes later and drank a liter of water. The air actually started to get cool around this time and we contemplated moving further on. I decided I needed a town day, the next being Idyllwild. I was stinky beyond all redemption and needed a morale boosting shower. Also I needed to find a dowel to fix part of my tent that I lost somewhere. And get some sun gloves (they are so red!)

I told B&C this who were sad to be parting ways. They have a tight schedule to keep and are moving fast to keep it. To be honest I’m surprised I’ve been keeping up with them. They said we had to have a farewell breakfast at the Paradise Valley Cafe the next morning.

Day 14 – 3.6 miles

I woke quickly because I didn’t really sleep. I hadn’t noticed the slant when I set up my tent, but it became quite apparent everytime I rolled over into my tent wall. Anyways today was town day! And hot food at a Cafe! My steps were quick and B&C were not far behind. Before we knew it we were tucking into some breakfast food at Paradise Valley Cafe, which is a popular PCT stop as it is only a mile off trail.

It was at breakfast that B&C said they were going to Idyllwild too for various reasons. So the gang doesn’t get broken up! I found us a ride from the trail angel list in the restuarant.

Herk was a soft spoken mountain man looking fellow who drove a 1990 Toyota truck. It only had room up front for one passenger so B&C and another hiker named Yeti rode the in the camper covered bed. It was a hot 30 minute drive and with the windows down it was hard to hear the dulcet tones of Herk.

I was nodding along and apparently had agreed to a tour of the town – all of this unbeknownst to the passengers in the back who had eaten huge breakfast burritos and were bouncing around on 32 year old suspension. Idyllwild is not that big but he had decided we needed to see the furthest cardinal point at each end of town and then make a big U turn. Each time he did this B&C and Yeti would attempt to exit through the skimpy latched tailgate only to be thrown back into the bed.

Meanwhile up front Herk is giving me insider knowledge unaware of the turmoil in the back. I noticed by the third U turn and when we passed by the Inn without stopping I heard “If we turn around again I’m jumping out!” Finally Herk dropped us off at the Inn and my bewildered companions fumbled out of the back in a hurry. I thanked him gave him a tip, and turned to my new buddies like “what?”

I’m still giggling about it.

Anyways I’m showered, laundered, and I’m gonna relax before what promises to be a grueling stretch of the San Jacinto mountains.

The PCT – Desert Sec. – Days 0-6

Day 0 – Campo, California (CLEEF campsite)

Today was loooooong. I got up at 0300 EST in Columbus, GA and it is now 1700 PST in Campo, CA. You do the math. My flights were delayed and I would have missed my shuttle, if the nice shuttle co-owner hadn’t graciously driven me and another late hiker in her personal vehicle! Thanks Dee!

At the campsite in Campo, a section of this facility is sectioned off for PCT thru hikers to start and run by trail angels Legend, Papa Bear, and a motley crew of rotating characters. Every night they hold a spaghetti or burger group dinner and Legend gave a beautiful (if not practiced) speech about the magic of the trail. This camp is only a quarter mile from the monument and entirely run on donations.

It was very windy. TBC….

Day 1 (AAAAAAHHHHH!!!!) – 11.3 miles (@mile 11.3)

Like I said it was windy. At 0530 my tent violently collasped on my supine form in a gust, snapping me awake with a vigor. I crawled out of my DCF and down coocoon and haplessly looked down at the mess I’d have to somehow wrangle into my pack. The wind cut through my sleep clothes, so I quickly set about my job.

There was a morning pancake breakfast that I wasn’t going to stick around for. I had a trail to start! I said bye to the few hikers awake, knowing they’d pass my slow butt soon enough. I took the dirt road up to the monument at the border, only a quarter mile. Once there a nice lady (whose name I never got) asked me some questions about hyperthermia and whether I had a permit, handed me a tag, and took my picture while I signed the register. Border patrol came blasting down the dirt road in a show of machismo, so I didn’t try to go stick my hand in Mexico through the wall like a lot of hikers will do.

I walked down to the first PCT marker and took my first official step towards Canada. It was very surreal. I’ve been preparing for this day for over three years (not as long as some, but enough for me) and HERE I WAS. DOING THE THING. Instinct told me to savor this moment – the beginning, the potential for all the things to come, and the relief of knowing you are where you need to be right now…and then some more hikers came along also excited for their start so I moved along, giving them their space.

The first mile winds back down through the scrub brush to CLEEF and crosses through the tiny hamlet of Campo. There are a bunch of crows out here, which surprised me. Seeing their sleek black forms playing in the wind seemed like a encouraging sign.

BREATHE IN: I can do this, I am capable, I am adaptable. The first real vista of the desert ahead was a record scratch moment. It is definitely different in real life because you can’t feel the wide open expansiveness through a picture. Feel the heat, wind, or weight of water on your back and down through to your feet. I could feel a little fear and doubt creeping in. What was I thinking? In my shape and health? Out here in such unfamiliar territory? Far away from family and friends? All by myself??? What was I thinking? BREATHE OUT: I can do this, I am capable, I am adaptable.

I started this trail with several intentions, but I never got too specific. It became clear in that first couple of miles, that I would have to clarify and cement my goals for this journey in order to bolster my mental strength (which TBH isn’t the strongest). I contemplated this as I weaved through the dusty hills of the desert, noting the strange and unfamiliar plant life. I found myself comparing it to being on an alien planet like something out of Star Trek.

I made it to the only known water source for the first 20 miles at mile 4.4. I loaded up to capacity at 5 liters and the added weight of all that water went straight to my hips. Gradually the hills opened up to bigger vistas and harder climbs. I stopped at the first bit of shade that coincidently had a nice view and ate lunch. There I met a nice lady from Montreal, but I had feeling I wouldn’t be seeing much of her because she seemed like a fast walker (and I was right).

After lunch it was a race to more shade and the stopping point for the evening. The sun beat down on my orange sherbert sun hoodie making everything glow. Light was EVERYWHERE! Bouncing off of rocks. Reflecting off shiny plants. Sparkling in the sand. This was my first indication that maybe I shouldn’t walk through the heat of the day (more on this later), but I stubbornly trudged on. I made it the campsite at 1430, which was early but I was BEAT (TM). The sun/heat drained away any and all of that peppy energy I started with. I plopped down on the bare rock under some shady manzanitas, chugged half a liter, and promply fell asleep.

When I woke the camp had filled with people, their bright blues and oranges flitting about the scrub like birds. I found out the site was mostly filled with couples, one from the Netherlands! By the way, I’ve noticed the PCT seems to be popular with the Dutch and Australians this year. I pitched my tent on some hard sand, weighing the stakes down with heavy rocks so my tent would stay in its desired position through out the night. I ate some cold soaked cous cous and promptly went back to sleep, leaving the brightly frocked couples to their chatter. Briefly I worried about seeming like an anti-social recluse – the curmudgeonly troll in the bushes – but then I remembered that I’m not out here to please anybody…so there. Nyah.

Day 2 – 11.7 miles (@ mile 23)

Blessedly my tent stayed upright all night long and I slept deeply until 0500 when I woke for no reason and without an alarm. Weird.

The rest of camp was stirring as I shouldered my pack and walked into the inky darkness. My headlamp made weird shapes of all the unfamiliar plants. The sun rose rapidly, all of a sudden saying I’M HERE! I walked along a ridgeline looking down into Hauser canyon and zoomed down a dirt road to the descent into said canyon.

It was about 0800 when I reached Hauser creek and stopped for my Second Breakfast. The creek was dry from the current drought California is experiencing. I still had 3 liters of water though from the day before. After some stretching and repacking, I set about to get The Climb over.

Everyone who starts a thru hike of the PCT is warned about the climb out of Hauser canyon. Multiple hikers have been rescued in the week I started alone. I thought getting there early would be a good idea.

Apparently I didn’t get there early enough. The sun blasted down from above with no mercy. There was zero wind to ease the heat and the path was exposed with little shade to offer respite. I’d walk a couple feet, huffing out of breath, and stop. The weight of my pack seemed to pull me backwards into the shade below. I drank half a liter in 10 minutes and looking up saw that the trail wasn’t even a tenth done.

I began to realize how different the actual trail was from what I was used to – the Appalachians. In those mountains the trail usually goes straight up the mountain with zero switch backs and straight down. The grade is extreme and often an actual path is non-exisent. I walk that trail by hitching my pack high up on my back, pulling on my trekking poles, and just busting up the thing until the top. This does not work on the gentle never ending climbs of the PCT. I quickly tired out and realized I had so much longer to go. It is a difference between multiple sprints and a marathon. You get the same place, but you’ll manage your energy differently.

My left hip started hurting really bad and made the climb even more miserable. I had to stop and stretch every 10 minutes. At one point I could have stayed and rested there for a few hours, but the goal was to get to Lake Morena and an actual real Cheeseburger. It meant punching through my mental wall, but also letting my frustration and pain be what it was. This was happening, and I knew I could make it through. I wasn’t expecting to butt up against my mental resisitance so early, but here I was.

Walk, drink, stop/stretch, and repeat until I made to the famed Lake Morena Malt shop. I limped my way up and quickly shucked my pack to go into the air conditioning. It was a real pleaure. Full on a rather large cheeseburger, I meandered over to Lake Morena to lay underneath a tree and nap. I saw some people I’ve been leap frogging around, but stayed to myself for the most part.

After a few hours in the shade and much stretching, I finally packed up and headed out onto trail around 1700. I was only going 3 more miles to a campsite that promised a wonderful sunset, per Guthook (the map app I use). There was a bit of a climb, but my hip seemed to handle it well and before I knew it I was upon my chosen campsite. Another hiker named Luda was already there. He was cowboy camping, which is something I’ve not had the courage to try yet. I like my DCF coocoon of privacy. It gives me a false sense of safety, I think.

LOOK AT THIS CAT!

A sunset was indeed had and I went to sleep early. Something I noticed is that the desert is QUIET. No katydids or crickets, no leaf crunching, no sticks breaking. Nothing but the occassional sounds of planes high up, and wind if it’s there. It’s peaceful, but odd. And it made me realise my tinnitus is really bad. The sound of nothing is deafening.

Day 3 – 11.3 miles (@ mile 34.3)

I actually kind of got hot overnight and had to take off my sleeping fleece. I got going around 0600 with a smile on my face, which is still wild to me considering I used to think getting going early was such a struggle. I winded down through some boulders and saw the lights of cars speeding along a highway in the distance. Once I got down into the valley and near the vegetation it quickly got chilly and I had to put my puffy on. I sped along a dry creek bed with the sun peeking over a mountain range to the east. A fog seemed to hang over the hills as I made my way to Boulder Oaks Campground and some of the cleanest pit toilets I’ve ever seen. I’d spend the night in them!

Crossing under the I-8, started a long ascent into the mountains Cleveland National Forest. The sun was blocked on the side I was walking for the first few hours by the mountain itself. Soon though I curved around into the direct sun and even at 1000 it was blazingly hot. For about two miles it was a climb up with no shade. I could feel the salt crystals forming as my sweat evaporated, almost like I was being salted as they do pork or fish. Eventually I made it to some small trees that offered little succor, but it was a break.

There was promise of trail magic at Cibbets Flats Campground (from the thru hiker grapevine), I just had to make it there. So I stumbled through it, surprising myself when I realized I’d already did the thing and saw the sign. The deal was sweetened by an offer of a free ride back to trail (the campground was 0.8 miles down a steep dirt road).

Snakes, dehydration, exposure, and NOW THIS?!?

I stumbled into the place through fresh smelling campers lazily having fun and found the thru hikers site where cold Gatorade and a turkey sandwich waited! Huzzah! It was a hiker feed hosted by a mother and daughter trail angel team. Shade, cold drinks, and food – I was happy. I also found Luda and the Dutch couple. I met another couple from Texas (a lot of couples on this trail), and the gal was an ICU nurse. The conversation turned morbid and dark as it does when you get nurses talking about their job, but everyone seemed supportive and undestanding. I went to the toilets to put an end to my part in the discussion as I felt the anger trigger trying to turn on. When I got back, they were onto the much lighter fare of digging cat holes in the desert. FYI, it’s like literal kitty litter. I’ve never had such an easy time of digging a poop hole. TMI?

More people started showing up, and it became crowded with people laughing and sharing stories. I started to feel some kind of way, especially when the beer and liquor got passed around.

QUICK SIDE NOTE: I guess this is a good a time as any to note that I am currently practicing sobriety. For many reasons, the strongest being a reaction to the pandemic, I was pickling my liver with the booze and about 6 months ago began to explore the reality of not “drinking my pain away”. I read The Naked Mind by Annie Grace and it seemed to stick that I might be strong enough to do this. After many slip ups and I’m sure many more, I’m now commited to this practice.

So anyways, I don’t really mind being around people who are drinking in small numbers, but in large groups, and all of them strangers? I thought it might be better if I went back to the trail. A lot of the hikers would be sleeping in this campground and I didn’t think it would do me any good to be around them all night. My overwhelmed brain was doing the klaxon noise and I quickly asked to be driven back to the trail head even thought it was still hot AF.

I was only going 1.3 more miles up the trail, through the blistering late afternoon sun. The heat was emanating from the ground and boulders like an oven. Oh and obviously from above too. But once I made it to camp, I knew I made the right decision. A dense thicket of scrub oak provided shade and cooled the area where I’d be sleeping. There was just enough room for my tent and I peeled off my sweaty hiking shirt for a dry one. Yes, I made the right decision, I thought as I lay in my cool tent and watched the sunset turn the canyon muted oranges and pinks. After all it’s hard to practice sobriety if you are drunk.

Day 4 – 7.2 miles (@41.5)

I am stinky. Everything is stinky. I had heard Mount Laguna had a wonderful restuarant run by a french couple that had a breakfast to die for…and also a coin laundry. So I packed up ealier than my PCT usual and got going at 0530 (!!what??) It was cool and breezy up and out of that canyon. The sun eventually peaked it’s fiery head over the eastern horizon, but a the breeze kept most of the heat off.

I was hiking fast for me, but I kept worrying about the other hikers blasting past me. I don’t know why it is a constant nagging thought and had to tell myself to stop letting comparison get the better of me. I’d go at my own pace and get there when I get there. But I think it’s a natural instinct to want to categorize and rank the situations you are in. Judgey Me is a real bitch and really works to ruin my day.

I call this the thru hiker All American Special. I just need my half of the waffle Dad!

Then the Pines started appearing! And I forgot all about Judgey McJudgeFace. TREES! PINE TREES! I didn’t realize how much I would miss their presense. Soon I was crunching along a path of old pine needles and feeling refreshed. My step quickened the closer I got to Mount Laguna and before I knew it I was sitting down to a cheesey and bacon-y omelette with tangy sourdough toast.

I managed to get a place in the PCT crash pad which was basically a tiny room where you slept on the floor. It was $25 and had access to a shower and kitchen. Also, there was one futon in the room and since I was there first, I claimed it as my domain for the day. I showered, I laundered, and I lounged. I met a German gal and we spent the afternoon doing the compare my country with yours thing. We went back to the Pine Cafe and had Four Cheese Ravioli (so good!)

Came back to the “room” and tried to fall asleep. The futon was comfortable enough, but I was so itchy. (Weird Laundry detergent?) I evenutally took two Benadryls and fell alseep. A storm was coming on Monday that everyone was going to stay in town for, but I didn’t want to waste a day waiting around and spending money. My point: I wanted to get to sleep early and I don’t usually medicate myself for that, but I really needed some sleep.

Day 5 – 14.5 miles (@ mile 56)

WHAT. AN. EPIC. DAY!

I woke later than I planned, but still early. The people there were going to stay in Mount Laguna to wait out the storm in two days, so they were still sleeping. I realized I lost my green yogurt spoon, but luckily enough found a random plastic spoon in the hiker box. I packed quietly and stepped out into a sleepy morning.

Back on trail, the dreamy quality of the light continued as the sun rose slowly over the mountains gradually waking everything up. I was on a ridgeline overlooking a wide vista and saw the sharp gradiation from cool blues to warmer tones. I was still in the pines and it felt a little like walking in woods at home. I saw a huge golf ball thingy that the USAF owns. It became a referernce point to how far I’ve gone through out the day.

Eventually the trees thinned out and I was walking along a mountain top in the full on wind with views out for miles! The subtle color hues of the desert on full display, with the warm ochers, and suprising greens and blues. The views went on for miles, with no trees obstructing the distance. You could see where the path was going to in the distance (a rare thing on the AT). Even though the sun was on full blast, the wind actually made it cold and I had to keep reminding myself to drink water.

I made to Pioneer Mail Picnic Area for lunch and met some folks who had an Airbnb available in Julian and offered me some space during the storm. How synchronistic! I’d been thinking I should figure this whole rain thing out. Originally I’d been telling people I’d just walk though it, after all if you didn’t walk in the rain on the AT you’d never get anywhere. But some of the more expreinced West Coasters were warning me of the high winds and lack of cover being more of the problem and that perhaps I’d want to wait it out. The problem being that everything in Julian (the next town up) was booked or prohibitively expensive. So it was with great surprise and gratitude that I accetped Chris & Bethany’s offer to take one of the rooms. They’d booked a huge Airbnb themselves and were looking for hikers to share it with. On trail it isn’t a weird thing to be comfortable finding total strangers to share a space with.

They were going to hike on though and try to hitch in Julian, but I wanted to spend one more night out on the trail. I found a secluded spot at the top of Oriflamme Canyon that was only another 3.4 miles. There was a huge boulder and brush to block most of the winds. I decided tonight was the night I’d try cowboy camping for the first time. Why? With rain coming? I honestly don’t know.

This is a water source.

I watched the stars come out after the sunset, which was fun. I had forgotten how they just kind of appear all of sudden as the light dims. There were the obnoxiously bright lights of the airplanes going to San Diego every 10 minutes. At first I didn’t know what they were, and the seemed hover on the horizon in a weird way (ALIENS?!?!) until they got closer and you could see it was in fact an airplane (not aliens). The night stayed clear and surprisingly warm and I think I fell asleep around the 8th airplane, kinda like counting sheep.

Day 6 – 4 miles to Sunrise Trailhead (@ mile 59 5)

Welp, boulders and shrubs can only do so much. Around 0430 in the morning, the wind kicked up and I could see in the ambient night light that clouds were blowing in. I decided there was no reason to keep sleeping, so I gathered my things in a hurry, brushed my teeth and set off.

The wind bullied me up and down that canyon. OHHHHHH I thought, this is why no one wants to be out here in a storm! There were small corners of the trail that were sheltered and I managed to eat a bar while watching the sun rise through the clouds over Salton Sea in the distance.

I got to the Sunrise Trailhead on the highway and sat in the pit toilet to warm my fingers up. There was no traffic at this time of morning anyway, so wasn’t going to stand out in the cold wind with no hope of a hitch. Eventually though I went out to wait and see, and then another group of hikers showed up and we all commiserated on our pitiful state. In a stroke of serendipity, a man in a camper van rolled up and we crammed everybody and all our things in there. And so we went to Julian.

Everyone in the van wanted to go to the coffee shop once we reached town, but I hunted heartier fare, so I stopped at the Julian Cafe for a Corned Beef Hash Omelette. I sat by myself as I do, but oddly enough the driver also showed up and I shared my booth with him. He said his daughter was doing the trail and he was just bumming along, camping in his van in the desert as a sort of support in case she needed it. (ah-hem…Dad?)

We parted ways and I went walking through the ridiculously cute town main street. I went to the general store and picked up some snacks because I didn’t pack enough food (I thought I’d be going faster than I am). The proprietor of one establishment ran out and bade me to come inside for free hot cider and a snack pack of chocolate covered bananas. Don’t have to tell me twice, as it was already getting blustery and cold. The cider was topped with whipped cream and cinnamon, and I sipped it in front of their fire place. What a life.

Julian is known for its apples and the fact that you get a free slice of pie at Mom’s Pie Shop if you show your permit. I think there is a bit of pie rivalry going on, because I read in the Julian Cafe’s menu blurb, that they were voted best pie in San Diego. Fascinated by the town’s pie history I went from store to store, and eventually bumped in to Bethany and Chris in the Olde Goat buying lotion. More serendipity! They walked me to the house we were staying in and I took a shower in the oldest tub in Julian. (It was the first house to get plumbing). After a short nap, we all went to the brewery and I had a wonderful pork sandwich, but apparently the pizza is where it’s at. It was pouring rain and I am definitely glad I made the decision to come into Julian and take zero tomorrow. And that I randomly met Chris, Bethany, and Austin (the other “roommate”) at that picnic area. It’s funny how things work out on the trail. Like magic.

Prologue: The Pacific Crest Trail

Yep. I’m doing it again. Thru hiking.

This time I’m going out west to the Pacific Crest trail (PCT). Why? Author and Hiker Sarah Wilson puts it best:

“It seems to have put its hand up for the job of being my teacher in this lifetime. And vigilant student that I am, I keep going back to have the raw, honest, story-steeped land pummel me with its teachings.”

If you didn’t know, the PCT stretches 2,650 arduous miles from the border of Mexico in California to the border of Canada in Washington. A northbound hiker will test their grit through the desert, the treacherous Sierras, the varied landscapes of Oregon, and the hopefully snow free Cascade mountain range. Water is more of a concern in the beginning, and then snow becomes the ever present threat when you reach the Sierras.

This trail will be different from the Appalachians in many ways. Obviously it is further away from my home of Georgia. I will truly be out there on my own. There will less chance of getting help from people I know. There fewer towns and I hear the trail has less of a social atmosphere than the AT…which I’m not mad about.

Below is a map.

I’ve been spending the past three years fine tuning and whittling down my gear. I’ve come to the conclusion, I desire comfort over being lightweight. And yet, there are still many things I’ve done away with. I wonder what the PCT will teach me.

I can never make a cool looking gear picture, but more importantly all that stuff fits into my pack.

https://lighterpack.com/r/rintq0 <——My pack list

I chose not to bring my big ass camera, and to instead go with my phone and the Osmo for video purposes. I still haven’t even put together a video from my last trip. It gets kind of overwhelming. But I’m going to need something to do in 6 months while I recuperate from this crazy adventure I’m about to embark on.

You can follow along here on this blog. I’ll update it as I can. Also I’ll post on Instagram @a.worthwhile.adventure

That’s about all I’ve got for right now.

The Great 8: Days 29 – 36

Day 29 – 0 miles

I took a zero day at Standing bear. Mostly I just fought with my phone and the wifi connection so that I could upload my blog. It wasn’t a very restful time and that place wasn’t very peaceful.

I’ve decided now that the schedule/plan/timing of the BMT is complete I can treat the next part of the Smokies as an acutal vacation. Im not going to worry about miles or timing. I’ll get there when I get there.

Day 30 – 10.4 miles

Slowly I meandered out of Standing Bear to make my way back to the AT. My destination was Cosby Knob shelter and that was 10 miles all up hill. Since I’m starting vacation mode I’m also not going to worry about how long it will take or how hard it will be.

I got back into the woods and it was amusing to note the immediate differences between the AT and the BMT. There were blazes on every surface, as if I was going to walk off the mountain. The well worn surface of the trail knew no overgrowth. Switchbacks and gentle grades! The trail itself was like a vacation. All ease and no stress.

I got to Davenport Gap Shelter and took a break. I saw a long black snake which I thought was a black water hose at first, except water hoses don’t move on their own. A trio of section hikers stopped by too and I ended up commiserating with them about how hard the BMT was.

Then it was a climb. Comparatively it was easy though. I kept passing day hikers and other backpackers. My legs felt great and ate up that incline. I was sweating buckets but I didn’t have to stop every five minutes. It felt amazing. I blazed past Mount Cammerer because I’d already seen it and there seemed to be bunch of people on trail.

Before I knew it, I was already at my destination. I don’t know if it was the manageable grade or what but it didn’t seem as energy suckingly hard as previous parts of my journey. The wonders of a well maintained trail.

Today I am grateful for feeling physically strong.

Day 31 – 13.4 miles

I both love and loathe staying in shelters. It’s easy to pack up and you stay dry. The drawback is that you have to deal with people.

I got going early because the forecast called for rain. A Saturday special. There was a bit of a view on the way up to the first ridgeline but after it started raining in earnest everything was socked in.

I ate lunch at Tricorner Shelter in order to get out of the rain. Three other NOBOs showed up dripping wet and we all lamented the chill and wetness. I was somewhat more dry than them because of my umbrella, but not by much.

After lunch it was a ridgline walk that most likely would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the blasting winds and whited out views. There is a stretch of dead pine trees I remember from my 2018 AT thru hike that looked spooky in the mist. I took another picture of the same trees in the same mist. Apparently I’m not allowed to see that view. There was so much wind.

I made my way to Pecks Corner shelter where the temperature quickly dropped. I made moon eyes at the others in the shelter who had stoves and therefor hot food. My sad little cold soaked cous cous was filling but it wasn’t hot.

Today I am grateful that I didn’t get too wet.

Day 32 – 7.4 miles

The temperature dropped into the 30s overnight. It was a real struggle to leave my sleeping bag for the frigid morning. The half mile walk back up the trail from the shelter warmed me up good.

Most of the morning was a ridgeline walk where you could see both sides. The north side was cold and blustery while the sun warmed the south side. Cloud rivers moved against the trees and there was still frost on some of the pines.

At Bradley’s view I sat and watched the clouds make their way south. The wind kicked up leaves scattering them down the rocky descent. The chilly air made my eyes water. It is a dramatic feeling being up high like that and seeing landscape stretched out to the horizon as a meteorological event puts on a show. There is no one about and all of this (waves hand at view) could be just for you. It is for a short while and everything is possible. But there are miles to walk and more things to see so I must move on.

I got to Charlie’s Bunion where apparently everyone wanted to be today. I politely waited my turn for some picture taking and then moved onto Icewater Spring shelter where I met Tiger who came to meet me! He going to hike a few days in the Smokies with me. The sun was warming and we sat outside the shelter reminiscing and complaining. It was like the old times, a whole 3 years ago, when things were slightly less complicated for me. It was nice.

Today I am grateful for Bradley’s view.

Day 33 – 4.6 miles

In the frigid morning I woke to the promise of a hot breakfast in Gatlinburg. Tiger’s van was parked at Newfound Gap and we were going to town! Even early in the morning the trail was crowded with day hikers. This should’ve been our first hint.

For a random no-festival, non-holiday Monday, Gatlinburg was packed with tourists. All the pancake houses (its a thing) had lines out to the street. We ended up at Old Dad’s, a overpriced convenience store with a grill, where apparently “we’re out of that” is their favorite phrase. I was bummed I didn’t get my pancakes, but at least I got a hot meal.

After a resupply at Food City and a stop at McDonald’s, it was back up to the mountains. The drive was swift, right up until Clingmans Dome where traffic came to a standstill. Tiger took decisive action and turned us around to a trailhead that would take us to Mt Collins Shelter.

Despite all my warm clothing I’ve been cold AF the past few days. I got some warm socks and a bag liner at the G’burg NOC, so that maybe I could hang out at camp without putting on every article of clothing I own. I’ve also had some sinus issues, with an alternatively stuffed nose or running nose. It makes going uphill challenging, so I obtained some Alka Seltzer.

In the morning we’ll drive up to Clingmans Dome where Tiger can park and we’ll get on down the trail.

Today I am grateful that the Gatlinburg NOC had more bear socks.

Day 34 – 11.2 miles

I took a Benadryl to get through the night and had some weird dreams. I slept pretty well with all the warm things I bought in Gatlinburg. We got back up to Clingmans Dome and walked around the tower. It was nice to see the open mountain ranges without rain clouds blocking everything. There were even cloud lakes in some of the valleys.

The easy grade of the northern half of the Smokies was over. Today was a return to the wild ups and downs I was familiar with on the BMT. The difference, however, was that you got some straight aways and views occasionally. Its the little wins that keep you going. I also got to talk Tigers ear off, who I’m sure was regretting his decision to hike with me for awhile. After almost a month by myself, its quite the treat to walk and talk with a friend. It makes the miles seem to go faster.

We got to our destination shelter and found that it was quite crowded. This has been very odd for me, as I’ve been pretty much alone at camp for the past several weeks. There was much chit chattery and much socializing. It is a stark contrast to the first half of my trip. Im not sure how I feel about it.

Today I am grateful that my knee is feeling stronger.

Day 35 – 12.1 miles

Derrick Knob Shelter was jam packed with hikers so once one person started crinkling their stuff in morning everyone got moving. The bright moon was still setting through the trees when I went to get my food bag. Tiger and I got moving with the usual chattering. Tiger warned me about the upcoming trudge up Brier Knob and he wasn’t kidding. It was horrendous, but unlike the BMT it didn’t last all day.

Once we crested the ridgeline to Thunderhead the views opened up and you could see for miles. The changing leaves brightened the hills and painted the range in reds and yellows. Tiger refused to sing the Rocky Top song on top of Rocky Top even though he is supposedly a fan of Tennessee. The descent to Spence Field was grassy and mild.

Earlier Tiger had said that he was going to stay Spence Field Shelter and go back to his van in the morning. So after lunch at the shelter I said goodbye to my friend and headed off on my own again. The next few miles were a cruise so I put on a podcast and drifted in and out of awareness.

There was one last climb up Little Bald to Mollies Ridge and it was forgiving compared to earlier in the day. My sinuses have settled down (Thanks Alka Seltzer!) so I was able to breathe easier on the way up. I got to the shelter and it was all ladies for once. A guy did show up but he only ate his dinner and then moved on. So Ladies Night was back on!

Today I am grateful for sunshine on mountain tops and a friend to share it with.

Day 36 – 11.6 miles

The moon was so bright that during my usual 3am trip to the “Toilet Area” I didn’t even need my headlamp. Right around the time I was supposed to be waking up and getting ready to go it started raining heavily. So I just lay there and stared at the downpour from the nice dry shelter. However I wouldn’t be getting further along the trail just laying there, so I eventually rose to greet my last day in the Smokies.

The trail was rolling and not much to see until the Shuckstack near the end. The old fire tower was a little off trail but I wanted to see the landscape with all the moving clouds. The first time I had climbed those rickety steps, they were dry and it was sunny. Today the rain made the terrifying climb even more so. Once I made it to the top enclosure, of course it stopped raining, but it was still windy…and cold. I got a few videos and pictures, ate some snacks, and called my shuttle. Then it was back to the trail.

The business of the traffic on trail told me I was getting closer to the end. Day hikers were out to see the fall leaves and views from the tower. They gave my wet bedraggled self a wide berth. Then I was at the trailhead just like that. Back where I started the Lakeshore Trail, so that the northern loop is complete! I love the Smokies (even the BMT part) and am a little sad to be leaving them. Some hikers like to complain about the permit/shelter system but I think it is a small price to pay for such beautifully tended trails and views.

I was walking the road to Fontana Dam and Nancy from the Hike Inn (also my shuttle) stopped by to see if I wanted to be picked up there. I wanted to walk across the dam though, so she kindly waited for me on the other side. I did the walk, got some dam videos, and was almost to the other side when an uneven part of the sidewalk got me. I ate concrete, or rather my knee and palms did. It was embarrassing. I just kind of wallowed on the sidewalk for awhile like a landed fish. I limped up to the waiting Nancy and asked for some napkins to staunch the blood flow on my knee. Here I show up to her establishment twice with busted knees. She must think I’m a complete klutz.

Anyway I got back to the Hike Inn, showered, laundered, and then went to town on some Mexican food. Im going to take a zero to recover my dignity.

Today I am grateful for Neosporin and Aquaphor.

Day 37 – 0 miles

I woke to find that my hands and knee hurt even more. I’m fairly certain my left wrist is sprained. It’ll take longer than a day for this all to get hike worthy, so I’m calling it. My trip is done. I guess I should change the name to the Almost Great 8? The Okay-ish 8? The Not Quite An 8?

Of all the things in the mountains; the roots, rocks, bears, mosquitos, rain, blasting winds, steep inclines, spiders, turkeys, downed trees, deep water crossings, mud pits, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and frigid temperatures; it is an unassuming piece of concrete sidewalk that took me out.

I’m not all that upset that I’m won’t be completing the whole thing. My ego wants me to push through it all and finish at Neels Gap, but I know I’ve gotten what I wanted out of this trip. It funny, I started this trip hoping to gain some clarity on some big questions and feel like I just gained more questions. I do feel better though. It’s what happens when you force endorphin production through long bouts of physical movement. Maybe I’ve got one thing figured out, which is enough for now.

WARNING: Bloody content below.

The Great 8: Days 13 – 18

Day 13 – 13.4 miles

I slept so good on that flat dry hotel mattress, but I woke up feeling hung over. Very weird because I did not drink. I’m guessing it was all the pizza and Coke I consumed the night before?

I got to the trail and realized I was also feeling a sort of civilization hang over too. My nervous system has been a wreck for years now, always on constant alert, usually for things I can’t control or even name. When hypervigilance and high anxiety becomes your norm, understandably it is incredibly hard to relax. Impossible really. Physically, you literally can’t slow down and all the bumper sticker philosophy just relax and let go! won’t fix that.

Walking the trail for the past weeks has forced my body to recalibrate. Instead of worrying about the general insanity of the world, my immediate and very real concerns are simple. Are you hungry? Ok eat. Are you thirsty? Yes, drink some water. Is that a bear? No it is just a very loud squirrel. I am appropriately on alert for things that directly affect my immediate situation. I can meet my own needs in a concrete and tangible way. And oh, how relieving is that? My nervous system can take a break, chill out. I drank that water, ate that food, found that campsite, and made those miles. Good job hormones! You did it Epinephrine! Now go get metabolized and let me sleep.

After all this woodsy quietude and lack of consistent access to social media, it is bit discomfiting to go back to it all. Everything is so loud and in a way that is very jarring. I mean, I already knew this. I guess its finally seeing the juxtaposition of a quiet brain vs our loud society. Does this even make any sense?

The rest of the day didn’t shape up any better. The trail continued its neverending quest to somehow go up even when going down. The spiders OWN this part of the trail. Every five feet its another web to the face so that I had silk dangling from my hat. I am one with the spiders. In fact, I am a spider now and spiders are great!*

The weeds were overgrown and I had to climb over or around lots of blow downs (big dead trees in the way). My feet hurt. It may sound like I’m complaining but I’m just reporting the news. This trail is hard work.

And it was all very frustrating. But that’s okay. I let it out. Who was going to care that I cried? Or that I screamed curse words at spiders? Or that when I tripped for the third time I just lay in the pine needles and had a hissy fit? Certainly not the squirrels or those damn spiders. Real emotions let out in real time and truly being in the moment. Thats why I chose this hard work right?

Also I made 100 miles today on the BMT, which makes it about 133 total. It doesn’t feel like that many and it doesn’t feel like I’ve been on the trail almost two weeks. I guess it is hard to see progress when you are in the middle of it.

Today I am grateful for pit toilets.

*Paid for by the Spiders are Awesome Committee.

Day 14 – 14.5 miles

It seemed like there were some long term residents at Lost Creek Campground. They apparently leave a dog in the tent unattended. They also wake up at 0530 in the morning to have loud arguments and then drive their loud vehicle up the mountain.

Since I was up, I had a nice breakfast drink by the creek. After a lovely pit toilet stop I made my way up the gravel road back to the trail, which immediately goes back down to Lost Creek.

The next 3 miles are the best I have seen on the trail so far. A beautiful dramatic creek walk looking at all the ways in which water carved its way through the mountains. The water was crystal clear and blue tinted in some places, like glacier water. The sun made its way into the valley and glittered off the busy water. The trail itself was relatively mild and best of all no spiderwebs! I floated beside this creek in awe and joy and didn’t even feel my sore feet. It was peaceful and I soaked it up.

But eventually good things must come to end and the creek walk did. I was dumped out into some mountain roads and shuffled my way into Reliance. The Hiawassee river flows through it and there was even a thoughtful pedestrian lane on the bridge to cross the river.

I made my way to Reliance Fly and Tackle where I heard there was a good burger to be had. It was like something out of a Hee Haw sketch. As I walk up to a stereotypical backwoods looking gas station there are four good ole boys sitting out front drinking. One even had the Boomhauer accent. Maybe it was more like King of the Hill. As I was obtaining my burger the owner and de facto leader shot at the stop sign with a shotgun. Everyone hooted and hollered and then had to each individually go inspect the sign. Many observations were made and the bullet in question was approved, I guess?

I mentioned that I had to walk back the way I came to get back on the trail (as this stop was a little off trail). It prompted a discussion of how I should get back, in terms of local mountain instructions. Boomhauer said something about a powerhouse and a “swanging bridge”. The others were talking about going up and down the hillside based on water levels of the river. Finally one fella broke it down and said go up that road (pointing to the road in front of the store) and it will meet the trail. Okay?

Sure enough the road went up and then down and the BMT met up with it by the river. And the trail promptly went into the overgrown bush. I stayed on the road.

There came a point when the trail turned away and up from the road so I had to return. The trail snaked its way up to a ridgeline only to immediately sink back to the river. But this wasn’t the fun wide open river. No it was a claustrophobic buggy nightmare. The skeeters were out in full force and hangry. I got my revenge though because I think I ate about 20 of them just breathing.

In order to move 10 feet forward you had to go up 200 feet in elevation and come back down. Its why I hate walking next to water. The geography of water side walking isn’t always a straight line, like a nice sandy beach. Sometimes the only way forward is up the rocky mountain and then down the rocky mountain.

The mosquitos chased me up the river to my campsite. So now I have dozens of bites on top the scratches on my arms and legs. I quickly and poorly set up my tent and threw everything in. Only two of the little bastards managed to make it in and were quickly dispatched. I am now sitting in my tent hoping that as the evening cools they’ll go to sleep and I can fix my tent.

Today I am grateful for the walk along Lost Creek.

Day 15 – 16.6 miles

I think I twinged something in my derby knee running away from the mosquitos. It is a chronic issue, something I’ve learned to baby. I woke to swarm of more mosquitos around my tent and tried to run away from them but my knee wasn’t having it.

I crossed the creek and trudged up through the maples and sassafras to higher elevation. I traded mosquitos for spiderwebs. As I was coming around a bend I scared a turkey who in equal measure scared me. It gobbled off into the brush leaving me to my thoughts.

The past week or so, the trail has really gotten to me. I itch all over, my feet hurt, and the trail itself has been the opposite of rejuvenating. As I thought I about it, I realize its my own fault. I’ve been ascribing to some arbitrary thru hiking “rules” that cause me to harshly judge myself in which I have to do high mileage days. And for what point? There is no trophy at the end of this.

On the other hand I do have a schedule to keep. The backcountry permit for the Smokies is set for specific days. And I have to get there. Maybe I should have given myself more time?

I reviewed the reasons I started this whole thing in the first place and no where does it say “to complete every step of the BMT”. One of the reasons was too push myself, and I have (I haven’t exercised in forever remember?), but not to the point of more burnout. There is also that whole getting my mind right thing.

The trail joined a motorcycle track that was pretty much five or so miles of cruising along a ridgeline. It allowed me my self absorbed ruminations. After Unicoi Gap though, the forever climb and the heat got me super critical of myself. Why can’t I just do this? Why is it always so hard? Why didn’t I go to the beach?

I stood huffing and puffing on that steep incline and realized the only way I was going to get through this was to stop wishing for the situation to be anything other than it was. A thought popped up hard things can be hard and you can still do them. If I could just accept what was in front of me, then I wouldn’t waste energy on thinking how it could be easier.

I also thought what would I say to one of my friends in this very situation? I wouldn’t berate or bully them, but tell them to take it easy and make sure to have some fun. I certainly wouldn’t talk to them the way I talk to myself. Why is it so much harder to be nice to yourself?

So I took a deep breath and a deeper swig of water, then accepted the fact that I would be continually climbing to camp and that I’d get there after sunset. There was nothing else to be done about it, except to do it.

A calm settled over me and I kept moving along. Up ahead I heard some rustling and saw a dark shadow. Thinking it another turkey, I crunched forward. Nope, it was a bear. A juvenile by the looks of it. As soon as it caught sight of me it sprinted off trail and rocketed down the mountain. I looked down and saw a perfect feather (turkey I’m guessing) and laughed at how the universe decides play.

And guess what, I did do it. I got up the forever mountain, I walked through the dark, and I made it to camp. I did the hard thing. I didn’t have to berate myself in the first place.

I decided to reschedule one of my planned stops in Tellico Plains a day early. So I’ll be getting off trail for a couple of days. I know how hard I’ve worked and how far I’ve pushed myself, but I also know I need rest. Especially this knee. It might sound whiney or even naive, but when you haven’t made time for yourself to rest in so long, you kind of forget how. Even your vacations turn into work. I guess that is one positive point to this whole sweaty ordeal.

Today I am grateful for Welsch’s Fruit Snacks.

Day 16 – 2.2 miles

I got to see the sunrise through the trees and I didn’t have to get up early to start walking. I slept in and enjoyed my morning drink. I only had 2.2 miles to go to Sandy Gap where my shuttle would pick me up to go to Tellico Plains.

It was a pretty ridgeline walk with an acutal view! The breeze was light and cool. The ascents and descents were manageable. Of course that was only for 2.2 miles. I’m sure right after the gap it got real again.

I got to the gap, surprisingly, a little early. So I sat and listened to a podcast that dealt with personal and societal pressures. The idea of performing your hardest and when to let go. It was an unplanned recap of my own thinking for the past two days.

So now I sit in A/C once again, full of food, and freshly showered. I’m going to rest my knee and wallow in all the comforts. I’ll reevaluate my planning and then most likely let the mountains take me where they will.

Days 17 & 18 – 0 miles

Zzzzzzzzzzz…..

My knee is feeling better. I’ve ate my weight in sandwiches. I’ve taken many showers. I feel ready to tackle the last part of the BMT.

Epilogue Part 2: Gear Review

Gossamer Gear Mariposa – 32.7 oz

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The Grey Ghost’s school pic

Seeing as how I’ve never backpacked before, I didn’t have many preconceived notions about how they should look and feel. If I had, this pack would have met all those expectations. Coming in at just a little over 2 pounds, this lightweight pack meets the sweet spot of weight, price and load capacity. For me anyway.

I had to dial in how the pack works because the stays came out and ended up poking through the pack making everything crumble. Gossamer Gear’s customer service sent me a new smaller hip belt and the Air Flow Sitlight Camp seat that acts as a back pad in the pack. I’m not sure why they just don’t go ahead and make that the standard back pad because that foam piece it comes with, is useless and sweaty. With the new hip belt and airy back pad I was set. The weight is displaced on your hips and the shoulders keep the pack from shifting. The hip belt was cushy and never caused any skin breakdown. I usually carried a load of 25-30 lbs with food and water and noticed that the pack carried heavier loads beautifully. In fact it seemed like the pack carried better when it was loaded down.

I am a big fan of the the pocket set up. The large side pocket kept my hammock easily accessible for quick set up. The smaller side pockets kept the things I use everyday within reach. Unlike some certain bird-named packs, I could reach my water bottles with the pack still on. The large back mesh pocket allowed me to carry wet things to dry out while I walked. The top flap (not technically a pocket I know) was great for putting extra things on top to cinch down. The hip belt pockets were big enough to carry my phone (Galaxy S9) and wallet in one and a days worth of snacks in the other. I came to judge other packs on their pocket arrangement and only ULA came close.

The only thing I’d change about it other than the back pad is the width of the shoulder straps. They were definitely made for wide shoulders and no boobs. I made it work, but I think narrower straps would have been more comfortable.

The Gray Ghost, as it came to be known, held up through thunderstorms, rocks, and every other weather/terrain the Appalachian Trail offers. After five months it survived with only two little tears in the mesh pocket. Overall, I’d say this is a great pack for loads up to 30ish lbs and long distance hiking.

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The Gray Ghost in action

 

Six Moons Lunar Solo – 26 oz

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TL;DR: It never looked like this

Initially I liked the ease of set up and the weight, but I never could get the damn vestibule taut. It was a choice of one side or the other. I set up this tent over 30 times, all in different ways, and could never get it to a) form a bathtub bottom and b) form a vestibule both low to the ground and taut. Also it does not block the rain very well. I got caught in a thunderstorm and despite putting leaves all around to divert the water, the rain soaked through all my stuff. I also felt very claustrophobic in the small space. I sent this home for my hammock in Damascus.

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Meh.

Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker – 31 oz

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Henny class photo.

The Appalachian trail is all trees so you are never worried about finding enough of those to hang a hammock. This particular hammock is super lightweight and super comfortable. It takes a few set ups to figure out the hanging angles and what works for you. I added an under quilt to my set up and slept like a baby. The asymmetrical fly is designed to coordinate with the hammock to keep the rain off without adding too much weight. I used this in the pouring rain and stayed dry and warm all night. I like the bug net attached to hammock and the pocket hanging from the main line.

The only draw back (and this applies to all hammocks) is that you have nowhere to put your backpack. I usually left it hanging out underneath me and in wet conditions would wrap it my Tyvek sheet left over from my tent.

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Henny in action

REI Joule 21 Sleeping bag – 35 oz & Enlightened Equipment Revelation – 16.55 oz

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The beetle of sleeping bags

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The ferrari of sleeping quilts

The Joule 21 is a perfectly serviceable cold weather sleeping bag rated to 21 degrees. I got this with my REI Co-op dividends and a sale, otherwise I would have gone for a more light weight option. My feet never got cold and in fact I often had to open the bag to cool down. It is also very water resistant. One time I went to sleep with damp clothes from rain and woke up totally dry and warm. This thing is like an oven. However it is just a hair north of being too heavy for thru hiking.

I ended up sending home for my Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt rated to 30 degrees when it got warmer. The only reason I didn’t take it to begin with was that the temperature rating on the quilt was not accurate. I spent a very cold night at Death Valley NP in the EE quilt where it got down to the 30s and froze my butt off. I’d say EE’s temp rating system is optimistic at best, and if you go with them to add 10 degrees to what you think you might need. If you are a cold sleeper, go down 20 degrees. During warmer months though, this quilt is nice because it allows for better air flow acting like a normal blanket. If it gets cool, you can use the elastic bands to cinch it close to your body and to your sleeping pad, as well as using the zipper and cord to close up the foot box. This quilt packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle and you can stuff it anywhere.

 

Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad Short – 20.1 oz

S2S Comfort light insulated

I went with this pad for it’s insulation rating (R-value) of 4.2 and it’s thickness of 2.5 inches. I’m a serious side sleeper and knew I’d need the cushion on my hips. This pad performed very well. I never felt my hips touch the ground, it never leaked and I was never cold. It took about 10 breaths to blow up and the clever dump valve let air out in one big poof. I didn’t have to squeeze any air out like the other pads. This brand is also the quietest. A lot of other pads are loud AF (I’m looking at you Therm-a-rest) when people shift in the night.

I switched over to the Sea to Summit Ultralight pad with the warmer weather. It weighs considerably less at 12.1 oz and packs down much smaller. I lost 1/2 inch in thickness, but it didn’t seem to matter. I put my sit pad under my hips anyway and still slept fine. The R-value is non-existent at 0.7 and I felt it the last night in Maine when it got down to the 30s, but it was only a mild chill underneath that didn’t keep me from sleeping.

Sea to Summit Aero Ultralight Pillow – 2 oz

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A must have. I will never not use it. I kept it under inflated for a more comfortable sleep. The only thing is that the fabric can get sticky with sweat, so I would usually add my fleece pull over over it.

Snow Peak Litemax – 1.9 oz

lite max

This stove is a champ. I made a aluminum foil wind screen and it always lit and boiled my water. It’s super small, lightweight, and never failed me.

Snow Peak Mini Solo Cookset – 5.5 oz

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Shown here is the smaller cup in the set. I ended up not using it as much and could have sent it home. The larger “pot” holds the fuel canister and stove when packed up. I used the pot the most. The handles do get hot but cool down very quickly once the heat is turned off. I would like the handles to be coated with some sort of heat reducer for better use when cooking. I used a camp towel to insulate my hand. Otherwise, very useful and compact.

Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork Long – 0.4 oz

It’s a spork. It did its job.

Marmot Precip Rain Jacket – 11.4 oz

Did not like. It’s very heavy to carry and did not repel water at all. I was more soaked on the inside than out. The only thing it did well was keep the heat in. If I’m going to be wet anyway, I’m going to find a lighter weight jacket.

Bedrock Sandals – 9 oz

LOVED! They pack down really flat and if you pair them with toe socks become the best camp shoes! They are pretty comfortable to walk in around town too. Mine are still going strong, unlike some of those bulky Crocs I saw on the trail.

Petzl Tikka Headlamp – 3 oz

Probably could have gone for no-weight LED pen light or something, but I already had this and it worked great. It’s better suited for night hiking, which I did none of, so I didn’t use it much. I paired it with the USB rechargeable battery and didn’t have any issues. The most I used this was the red light for going to pee in the middle of the night. FYI: use the damn red light when getting up in the dark, especially if you are in the shelter. I was surprised at how many people would nonchalantly blast the white high beam with everyone sleeping.

Black Diamond Hiking poles

The Z-poles kept breaking on me. Dirt and grit gets up in the pole and makes it impossible to disassemble. Next time I’m going to go with adjustable.

Darn Tough Socks

The only problem with these is not having enough.

Ex-Officio Underwear

Best underwear ever! Thru hikers, do yourself a favor and get black undies. I wore one pair pretty much the whole way. They are still intact, kept the smell down, and dried out in 5 minutes. For some reason the outfitters think women want flowers and pastels so I ended up with a lavender pair, but only wore them in town. Like I said, get black.

Patagonia R2 Fleece

Easily my favorite piece of clothing. It was light enough to hike in and not get too sweaty, but still warm. I’d put the hood up on cold nights to cover my head while sleeping. When it was warm, I’d use it over my pillow. I ended up using it for warmth more than I thought I would. It gets chilly up at night up in them mountains.

Guthook’s App

Very useful. It tells you where you are on a map, how far away you are from waypoints, and has elevation profiles. You can change it from Northbound to Southbound. The comments on waypoints are helpful for finding out if water sources are dry or services in town.

 

Any questions about gear, just let me know!

Epilogue Part 1: Stats and Advice

Wrapping up this whole Appalachian Trail experience I’ve calculated up some info and thought about things I wish I’d known before I started. So let’s get into it.

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Actual miles hiked: 1245, but probably closer to 1300 with all the side trails to shelters and water

States: 10

National Parks: 2

Zero Days: 32

Weight lost: 22 lbs, 2 inches, and 6 dress sizes

Favorite Sections:

  1. 100 Mile wilderness
  2. The Smokies
  3. Grayson Highlands
  4. Franconia Ridge
  5. Georgia

Least Favorite Sections:

  1. North Carolina – especially Jacobs Ladder
  2. Maryland
  3. The Whites

Favorite Spots:

  1. Tinker Cliffs, VA
  2. Unaka Mt, TN
  3. Hot Springs, NC
  4. The Shuckstack, TN
  5. McAffes Knob, VA
  6. Mt Moosilauke, NH
  7. Jo Mary Lake, ME
  8. Plum Orchard Shelter, GA
  9. Dismal Falls, VA
  10. That Alpaca Farm, VA

Best Hostels: (I think the lesson here is Virginia has a lot of awesome hostels)

  1. Stanimals in Waynesboro, VA
  2. The Lakeshore House in Monson, ME
  3. Bear’s Den in Bluemont, VA
  4. Angel’s Rest in Pearisburg, VA
  5. Station @ 19E in Roan Mountain, TN

Favorite Podcasts on the trail:

  1. And That’s Why We Drink (true crime/paranormal) – I listened to the whole 70ish episodes while walking, don’t listen at night
  2. How Did This Get Made? (comedy) – kinda of like MST3K but in podcast form, don’t listen while going uphill because you laugh too much
  3. Harmontown (Dan Harmon) – by the guy who did Community and Rick and Morty, it’s like being part of a conversation you can occasionally tune out, also very funny
  4. Dude, That’s Fucked Up (random topics that are effed up) – these gals are hilarious and often sounds like conversations I would have with my own friends
  5. My Dad Wrote A Porno (um, his Dad wrote a porno) – British accents, hilarious erotica written, as advertised, by a Dad, a nice palate cleanser

Things I missed about civilization while on trail:

  1. Showers – I’ve already been pretty vocal on this one
  2. Easy access to clean running water
  3. my kitties
  4. wearing cotton
  5. flat dry beds

Things I didn’t miss about civilization

  1. traffic
  2. social media
  3. having a schedule

Favorite Pictures:

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General Advice

As far as advice goes, for most of the general stuff, the internet has a host of websites that are far better than mine. This website is a good example:

https://thetrek.co/83-pieces-of-advice-for-thru-hikers-from-thru-hikers/

You can pick and choose what you want to follow, but know this: everyone is both right and wrong. You’ll figure out your trail life as you go and you’ll find what works for you. Everyone’s experience is different, so don’t take someone else’s advice as the absolute truth. Even me.

But if I may…and this is your first thru hike:

  1. Figure out your ultimate goal first. Do you want to touch every blaze? Are you set on GA to ME Northbound? Are you open to side trails and sites? Whatever your set goal is informs how fast and far you’ll travel, as well as mentally prepping yourself for the adventure to come.
  2. Find a pair of shoes that are still comfortable after 15 miles carrying a 30lb pack. Seriously, if your feet hurt you aren’t gonna want to walk.
  3. Get in shape as much as you can beforehand. A lot of thru hikers will tell you “the trail gets you in shape”, which is true. But if you want to get the most out of your hike, you’ll want to be in the best shape when you start. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t even start if you aren’t, but it sure does help.
  4. Figure out if you want to go Ultralightweight or Comfort. Neither is better than the other because it is a personal choice (but be prepared for every hiker to discuss and judge your choices). UL is better for your body during the day when you are hiking, but Comfort keeps you going when you are tired and sore. You just have to decide what you are willing to compromise on. For me, I emphatically decided I needed three pairs of socks, which is overkill to some UL purists. Go as lightweight as you can afford, while keeping in mind comfort (and the fact that you’ll want an extra pair of socks when it’s raining for a week straight)!
  5. Do some shake down hikes. Figuring out what gear you like or don’t is more helpful when you are home and able to return things easier (hello REI!)
  6. Go and do it. You think you’ll know what it’s like, but you won’t actually know until you do it.
  7. Regarding chaffing: To prevent it: use Body Glide or Deodorant. When you start to feel the burn, stop right then and there and take care of it. To treat it: Cleanse the affected area first. Apply Zinc Oxide (Desitin). Dry out offending clothing. Apply Neosporin if it doesn’t clear up.

Advice for Females (Guys tread here at your own risk)

So the question I got the most: Where do you use the bathroom? First off: where ever I wanted and it was glorious.

Secondly, there is a Leave No Trace “policy” that most hikers try to follow that states you should carry out all your trash (ALL OF IT) and bury your TP and poop. Women have to carry out any sanitary trash like pads and tampons.

For most women who are used to using TP after peeing, this can present a challenge. Are you going to carry around a whole roll of TP and bury it every time you pee? Are you going to haul out pee soaked TP? Probably not. Well not for 2000 miles anyway.

While the privies are useful for these purposes, sadly they are few and far between. You are gonna have to squat in the woods at some point. What is funny is that no one really talks about it either.

Here’s the real talk: there are two camps women fall into. The first group pees and then air dries. The pro of this is no TP worry, the con: you are squatting around for a minute and you end smelling like pee. *Wash yo pants!

The second group: use a bandana. The pro is no TP worry and a drier downstairs, the cons: you are carrying around a pee rag and you still smell like pee. *Wash yo rag!

You are gonna smell like pee at some point anyway, but what is important here is hygiene. Washing your hands and downstairs bits prevents any issues like UTIs. Essentially it is easier to wash a bandana at camp than pants, but that is your choice. Also you can hang the bandana to dry in between uses so it doesn’t smell so much.

For the menstrual issues, it’s a little more complicated and very dependent your own routine. Be prepared for your cycle to get screwed up because of the strenuous exercise and change in nutrition. You’ll want to bring just a little more supplies than you think you need. You don’t want to be on the trail and run out during such a perilous time. Check hiker boxes to see if some helpful menstruator put some tampons in there, that way you don’t have to buy a whole box.

Pads only? Be prepared to carry around a lot of trash.

Tampons? Be prepared to squat in the woods to apply and carry out the trash.

Cups? Wow! Go you! I could never figure them out, but if you are going to use one, do so before you are in the middle of the woods.

Regarding the trash: put your trash in a small ziplock bag and keep in an opaque shopping bag. Those black bags you get at the gas station are especially good for this, but grocery store bags work too. When you are ready to dispose: throw away the whole thing. No one sees the bloody mess.

And that’s all I’ve got. The rest you’ll figure out as you go.

Next up: Gear Review!

100 Mile Wilderness and the Last Boss Level: Katahdin

Day 145

Mile 2190

Thanks for the pep talk Teddy

Starting after Monson, Maine is the great 100 mile wilderness. It leads right up to Baxter state park which, of course is end of the AT and Katahdin. Before you even start the trail is this funny sign that warns you of the many dangers of the wilderness.

Not to downplay what could be some serious danger, but there were logging roads and you heard planes, trains, and automobiles all through the place. We got Shaw’s in Monson to drop off a supply of food about halfway through which took some weight off the back. The first half the trail is pretty rugged and had some serious ups and downs. I liked that there were ponds and lakes everywhere. Even if you weren’t on top of a mountain there was still some scenery. I have to hand it to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club for maintaining this part through. They had a lot of stone steps that were helpful.

On the third day Tiger decided it was time for him to head out and go home. He wasn’t feeling it anymore I suppose and on that day I wasn’t either. It was oddly hot and humid, but I decided I was going to get to Katahdin come hell or high water…or chaffing. After a rather anticlimactic goodbye, I slogged my way to the next stop. Luckily the weather turned cooler the next day and I tackled White Cap mountain range where I spied my first view of Katahdin.

After White Cap and my food delivery the trail got substantially easier. I managed 17 miles without much pain which is a first. This section of the trail made is easy to camp next to lakes. So for the next three nights I stealth camped next to gently lapping water and caught amazing sunsets and sunrises. I met quite a few NOBOs who were flying through this part in a hurry to get to Big K. Im not sure why they didn’t slow down and enjoy the last few miles as they were the prettiest I’ve seen so far.

The last night before Baxter I stayed at Rainbow Lake with two other hikers, Daniel and Larry. They started up a fire by the lake. It got pretty chilly overnight and in the morning it had to be in the 40s. I started early so I could secure a spot at the Birches in Baxter which only lets in 12 hikers for the night.

Throughout the final half of the 100 miles you keep getting glimpses of Katahdin looming in the distance. It gets closer and closer. After all this time and effort to get there I felt my self slowing down to enjoy what little time I had left of the “easy stuff”. But I knew I’d have to confront the last boss level soon and as I crossed Abol bridge there it was up close and very real.

I made my way into Baxter State park and signed up to camp at the Birches. At 10:40am I was already 9th on the list. Everyone who signed up before me was there at 7:50. The 8 miles to the ranger station at Katahdin Stream Campround were bittersweet. They managed throw in some more pointless ups and downs while mixing in some of the prettiest riverside walking. And then finally I was there, ready to camp for the last time. Two guys bought some fire wood and we all sat around the blessedly hot fire telling tales and complaining about the trail.

I took my time going up Katahdin partly to be in the moment and also because it is really freaking hard. About halfway up you start to get into seriously technical rock climbing. It’s an amazing feeling to be at the top looking down from something that looked impossible and think “I did that”.

Once you get onto the Tablelands the last mile or so is pretty easy. I crested the last hill and saw the famous sign. I got a little teary eyed and then noticed there about 50 people around it. I waited my turn to take a picture and then I was done. It was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.

I didn’t know how I felt, and still don’t. That scene from Forrest Gump kept running through my head. Where he stops running and says “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now”.

So I went back down the mountain on the ridiculously hard Abol trail and set my sights on getting to Millinocket, where I showered, laundered, drank one beer and then fell promptly fell asleep.

I thought I might have some life altering revelation, but it’s not as big as that. Just little moments that you can hold onto like weightless gold coins in your hand. Snippets of memories like laughing with Tiger at camp, sunsets, amazing mountain views, the sunlight turning the forest into a cathedral, the pain in my knees and the breath in my lungs. All those things add up to something I suppose. I’m not sure what yet though.

New Hampshire

Day 134

Mile 1845.5

New Hampshire starts out right away letting you know it’s not fooling around. The mud is deep, the climbs are steep, and the city prices are expensive. You start out in Hanover which is the home of Dartmouth. Even though the trail literally walks through that town, the townsfolk look at you like you are a dirty vagrant. Which is technically true. But still, I didn’t appreciate the implication. Oh and a cashier at the co-op told me that my driver’s license picture didn’t do me any favors…um, thanks?

Nothing about the town is cheap, so a few of the locals got together and formed a group of trail angels who let you stay at their house. One such angel, Greg, invited us to stay in his home. He makes a book each year of all the thru hikers he hosts.

The southern part of NH ramps up the difficulty level incrementally. Each mountain I went over seemed bigger and harder than the last. All the way up Moose mountain it threatened to rain so there wasn’t a view, but someone marked up the sign to the shelter. That gave me a chuckle.

Smarts mountain had a fire tower on top of it that was my end point for the day. I kept seeing it at various points and everytime it seemed so far away. At one opening in the trees which was supposedly 1.8 miles away I saw the tower again and about cried. It still looked like a twig on top of this huge mountain. Going up Smarts was steep enough that there was rebar steps to get up the slick rock face. Once I got to the top I of course had to climb the fire tower and enjoy the sunset.

The Dartmouth Outdoor Club (DOC) seems to have a sense of humor when it comes to their shelters and privies.

I got into Glencliff where the hardware store was also a gas station and my resupply.

The next big climb was Moosilauke, in which I took a wrong turn and briefly ended up in a forgotten cemetary. Going up wasn’t actually that bad, it was going down that was treacherous. On top was windy (at least 40 mph) and cold. I tried to take a panorama but everytime I turned west, the wind knocked me over. So I didn’t stick around too long. But like I said going down was rock hopping from one precarious situation to the next. The was a nice brook waterfall next to the trail that changed characteristics as you went down.

After a lovely stay in the town of Lincoln, we started on the deceptively begnin sounding White Mountains. Serendipitously, Hollow Leg (who I met in GA and actually lives in NH) texted me and gave us a ride to the trailhead. I’m kicking myself because I forgot to get a picture!

So the thing about the Whites is that they are known as the seriously hardest part of the trail. Dante could have based The Divine Comedy off these moutains. I knew this and thought I was prepared, but oh how wrong I was. Mt Wolf wasn’t so bad, but going up the Kinsmans demonstrated my clear lack of athletic ability and preparedness. Imagine two miles of just straight up rock climbing on slippery surfaces carrying a 30 pound pack. My knees quickly stated that they did not sign up for this. Where before my pace was 2-2.5 mph, it slowed down to a crawl. So it’s taking longer than I thought it would, I’m not as tough as I though I was, and my knees are pretty much kaput now. The views are spectacular though.

Franconia Ridge was quite the hike. Its above the treeline and very cinematic. Also very windy. There were several cloud rivers going over the peaks. I stood and watched as they flowed from one side to dissipate on the other. By the time I got up to Mt Lafayette everything was cloud covered and gray with hurricane-esque winds. I hunkered down behind a rock wall to eat my lunch. Then it was the bone crunching descent that seriously worried me. It might have been fun if it was a slip and slide situation with pillows at the bottom…but it wasn’t.

I’ve been feeling like quitting every day since I started the Whites. Not because I don’t want the challenge, but my body has clearly stated is no uncertain terms that it isn’t ready for this. You’d think after all this time I would’ve been, but I know I started at a serious deficit in the fitness department. And while I have gained some muscle it’s still not enough to safely enjoy this hardest part. I’ve decided to skip, again, and go up to Monson where the 100 mile wilderness begins and finish this journey. My knees just let out a sigh of relief.

I don’t think of it as a failure, but of as a lesson learned of my own physical limitations and the necessary preparation required for future difficult adventures. I’ve already got vaporous plans of a SOBO thru hike one day, where you get the hard stuff out of the way first. Kinda like eating all your vegetables before enjoying the steak.

Tiger’s action shots:

Vermont (or Vermud)

Day 121

Mile 1748.7

The rain kept me and Tiger in Bennington, VT longer than planned. The downpour flooded the roads and there were flash flood warnings for our exact location. It would seem that Vermont does not divert its water well.

We waited out the worst of the rain. Even so, it was raining when we got back on the trail. The first thing I heard was a loud rumbling of an overfull creek. Luckily there was a bridge. The actual rain died down as the day went on. The mud situation was out of control though. It was giving me flashbacks of that traumatizing childhood movie The Neverending Story.

Nooooo Artax!

There was no going around the mud. You try to bushwack to get around it but there is so much, it eventually becomes a pointless endeavor to stay dry. You get mud in shoes, on your legs, in your hair, and in your soul. You become one with the mud. This is my home now.

The water up here is tinted brown. I hear that’s because of tannins caused by peat and other decaying organic matter. It makes the creeks look like flowing beer. Or maybe that’s just me.

The water at one creek was so high I had to wade through it. It was a little nerve racking. I put on my sandals and got to stepping through the beer river.

The first night out of Bennington we stayed at a shelter where two nitwits woke up 6am and started yakking at each other loudly about their water bottles and other related hiking issues. I was, of course, still asleep but that didn’t deter our intrepid explorers from yelling their very important business for everyone to hear. Tiger got a hilarious picture of me rising from my slumber.

Seriously dude? STFU!

There was a lovely fire tower after that on top of Glastenbury mountain to assauge my nerves though. 360° views of somewhat not rainy Vermont. The breeze was cool and the sun was bright…for awhile.

The next night we were at an unofficial AT cabin with an actual wood burning stove. The water source was a refreshing brook with cold clear water. It made my feet go numb after two minutes which was a blessing.

Another group of nitwits came up dithering about whether or not to sleep in the cabin. Are there mice or not? I don’t know, I don’t want to sleep in here if there are mice. Where is that other person going to sleep? Who’s sleeping where? Are there mice? What are we eating for dinner? Did you put your stuff down? Are there mice in here?

This went on for 20 minutes, which is 19 minutes too long. I was already laying down and rolled my eyes so hard I might have pulled a muscle.

Yes they stayed in the cabin.

No there were no mice.

There was a pub in Manchester Center that boasted the portrait below as their original founder. The cheeseburger was good.

The best sleep in a shelter I’ve had so far was in Peru Peak. There was a rushing creek right in front and it masked all the normal nighttime noises one gets in a shelter. All the snoring, farting, and squeaky sleep pads disappeared as I listened to real time nature sounds.

It started raining off and on. We made it by Lost Pond in a freak break from the never ending precipitation. It would have been a nice spot to camp if the hordes of boy scouts hadn’t already claimed it.

There are these stone walls all over the place. I’m sure they marked boundaries of old farms and whatnot, but I still don’t like them. The Blair Witch Project, while hilariously not scary, left me with a distrust of old stone walls in the middle of nowhere. Especially when they have rusty implements sitting around them.

Going up over White Rocks was spooky. There were two rock gardens where people started a stacking trend. The light was a humid gray that sharpened the edges. The tall pines creaked and moaned like an old house. As pretty as it was, I didn’t dally too long.

There is apparently a porcupine problem up in this area. I guess they’re like possums down south.

And then it was off to Killington peak. Which I didn’t go all the way up. It was a 0.2 steep climb up some rocks and it was a cloudy day. On the way down I saw this puppy in a basket. I lost my shit.

At the end of a blue blaze you come upon this vision.

Dry beds! Showers! Best of all an Irish pub! The Inn at Long Trail! Tiger and I zeroed here and went to the next town over to resupply.

Incidentally Rutland also boasts the Yellow Deli and Hiker hostel run by the 12 Tribes. It’s known on the trail as “that cult deli”. They serve good food and Tiger remarked that whoever is running their marketing knows their stuff. I didn’t drink the kool-aid, but their Chai latte was delicious.

A random selfie picture Inception moment:

The stretch after Killington was super hilly and seemed to go up and down for no reason. I learned a new term: PUDS, or pointless ups and downs. At some point we had to climb down a ladder.

We stayed at a privately owned cabin that had a deck on top. Unfortunately the clouds obscured the views, but they made for some interesting pictures.

Tiger wanted to go into Woodstock which wasn’t anywhere near the trail. I said alright “but only because I don’t want a pouty and sulky Tiger, and if this shit goes sideways you’re gonna hear about it!” We managed to get a hitch from a nice lady named Victoria and ate at the Mountain Creamery. I had the best Brownie a la mode! So I guess it didn’t go sideways.

A Tiger and his pack

In West Hartford a trail angel named Linda gave us cold sodas and let us sleep in her barn.

West Hartford also had the most interesting signs.

Then it was a nice walk into Hanover, New Hampshire! Vermont is done!