Day 157: Last whole day

Day 157
Miles: 18
From below Tamarack Peak to Hopkins Lake

It was cold last night – it’s chilly this morning, with the sharp bite of fall that has been with us for the last few weeks. I crawl out of the tarp to get some water from the frigid stream nearby, and emerge into an incandescent morning. I’m so full of happiness I might just burst open.

Seahawk and Bumblebee took off at first light. They are meeting a friend of Bee’s on the other side of the border, and want to get to the monument by early tomorrow. I hope we see them there, but I doubt it. For ourselves, we pack up leisurely, Dirtnap, Biscuit, and me. This is the last whole day on the PCT.
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Day 156: the right choices

Day 156
Miles: 16
From Glacier Pass to below Tamarack Peak

I peak outside the tarp – nothing but gray fog. Any excuse to turn over and go back to sleep… but J is soon shaking me awake. The fog is just a tease, burning off quickly, and behind it there is blue sky. Blue skies! Here it is, October in the North Cascades, and we have blue skies. We eat our candy bars and instant coffee and follow it up with a side of switchbacks. Mountains for breakfast today!
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Day 126: PCT Days!

Day 126
Miles: 0
Portland to Cascade Locks

Three days to do my chores just means a mad scrabble on the fourth morning to finish them all. J and I precariously load our bicycles with boxes and make one last ride together, to the post office. Resupply: mailed. We pack up our backpacks, and weigh them and ourselves, just because there’s a scale in the house. Both our packs, with our gear, five days of food, and a liter of water, ring in at exactly 30lbs. Not bad. As for myself, I’ve gained back seven of the pounds I lost in the Sierras, and I think all of it is in my thighs. Bike muscles. It’s a relief to not be on the edge of emaciation anymore.

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A word from Pacman

Pacman, my friend and traveling companion for a month and 700 miles now, keeps a facebook community page where he shares some of his life adventures/escapades. I thought he summed up the bike trip better than I ever could, so I asked if he would mind if I shared it here. He generously agreed. (Some swearing.) (Check out his facebook page for his take on his PCT adventures, it’s worth your time. You can find it HERE)

By Pacman:

The sound of my knobby all terrain tires screamed as they ripped across the pavement. My manpaws wrapped tightly around the soft rubber grips of the handlebars. I leaned forward and low, tucked in my knees and elbows trying to be as small as possible. closing in on another hairpin turn my pinkies extended out to work the front and rear breaks as I shot a glance behind me. There at the top of the hill was Gizmo rocketing in behind me, head low, yellow team whiskers flag going apeshit as it sliced wildly through the air being dragged by the old fishing rod zip tied to her right pannier. My head back straight now I braked hard on the straight away, bike brakes don’t work we’ll at 35 mph, just before the turn now, I release the breaks and lean hard, almost, can’t help but drift to the left and too dangerous to look back, swing out of the turn hard and back into another, trying so hard to ride the line and not turn myself into taco meat, the road straightens out just as the logging truck behind me busts out with the engine break. The heinous metallic gurgling sound of the 18 wheeler clearing its throat combined with the wind, wheels, and white zombie I had blaring in my earbuds sounded like the fucking apocalypse bearing down upon me! My monkey paws squeezed tight, narrowing my eyes I took a deep breath and held it as the barreling, rock throwing, beast of a machine lumbered past, the air in front of the truck tries to push me off the road so I lean in to compensate, then at the rear the air sucks in the other way trying to pull me into it making me lean against, in a half second the truck was past and I released my breath only to capture it again for the next wild corner.

Between the amazing downhills. And tortuous up hills, the heat, the cold, the rain and fog, the UPS delivery trucks constant attempts to take us out, the 50 foot travel trailer rigs piloted by elderly folks that can’t see over the dashboard, people giving us thumbs up as well as the ones who flipped us off, the late night intruders, the dicks who swerved to scare us, the hipsters, hippies, organic ( and non-organic) farmers, bums, peddlers, vagrants, townies, and drunks, not to mention all those who told us we would die. From pulling this bike out of the boneyard in NorCal to posting it for sale in Portland Oregon this 683 mile bike ride up the coast has been a non-stop action packed, edge of the seat thriller that can be perfectly described in two words. “Terrifyingly magnificent”. Team Whiskers Northbound Janky West Coast Death Proof Bike Tour complete.


Day 84: heads rolling through the forest

Day 84
Miles: 20
From Lacey Creek to Milton Creek

Not a particularly motivated morning, but here we are, doing it again. That seems to be the trick to thru-hiking – doing it again. The amount of miles you need to hike a day is within the reach of almost anyone who decides to start walking, it’s the repetition that gets you. “Stackin’ twenties,” as thru-hikers like to say. “I’m doing alright, it’s just when you start stackin’ the twenties, you know?”

Blue lakes in the distance, but out of reach. Good. J would want to fish, don’t have time for that. We’re not here to have fun, you know.

My feet are making me straight-up miserable, so I get out the ipod and put on an audiobook. I don’t use the ipod much, but it’s a good crutch to have on hand. I decide to listen to some Dickens and spend most the day deep in the French Revolution, it’s guillotine and untrammeled vengeance a strange companion to the trees. (What’re sore feet to losing your head?) The trees here aren’t much to look at anyhow, as we alternate between sections of grossly unhealthy forest, the trees crowded, the understory dank and filled with dead timber, and forest that’s been partially harvested. We cross dirt roads all day. There’s no real illusion of being deep in the wilderness – this is a managed forest, with years of mis-management behind it.

We end up stopping at Milton creek, the prettiest place we’ve been in what feels like a long time. The creek is robust and freezing cold, the understory lush with ferns. We meet two other PCT hikers there, kids fresh out of their freshman year of college. You can actually see the stars coming out of their eyes.
“I think I’m getting old,” says J. “I had to restrain myself from wanting to parent them.” Nothing makes you feel way older than 18 than hanging out with 18 year olds. Man.

Short day to Sierra City tomorrow – for now, it’s time to let myself relax into the soft blue light of our Sil-nylon palace. Home sweet home.


Day 80: another break’s a-comin’

Day 80
Miles: 13
From Squaw Creek to Donner Pass

The heavy thunderheads of the day before never broke on us in the night, but they still hang over us, low, swollen. 13 miles by 1 pm – that’s doable. Jule will be picking us up at the pass, and then it’s friends, food, rest. I can actually see it in front of me, a dangling carrot to chase across the mountains, and J and I pack up our stuff and get moving.

It’s spectacular country out here, and almost more so with the theatrical skies. One hard climb, then we’re out on a ridgeline all the way to the pass. The weather can’t decide if it wants to rain on us or not, and we pull out our umbrellas, put them away, pull them out again. Most of the time I’m pretty sure that the umbrella is a stupid piece of gear, so I jump at any precipitation. I would have mailed it home months ago if it fit into a flat-rate box, but I can’t justify throwing away a perfectly good piece of gear just because I don’t like carrying it. (This is why I’m not ultra-light. My inner hoarder.)

It’s a good thing there’s not too much uphill today. It all seems unbearably difficult. Even so, I can’t help but be impressed with our narrow ribbon of dirt, as it winds over steep volcanic ridges, the rock weathered in stripes of pink, green, and blue, views big to the east, wide to the west. (I can’t wait to be in a house.) It’s the weekend and day hikers pass us going the other direction, trail runners with giant quadriceps blast down the trail. One stops to talk – he’s a PCT alum himself. Perhaps that’s next for me, after this adventure – ultra-marathons. Ha!! I’ll probably never walk again; I’ll collapse in a heap at the Canadian border.

Coming down the last downhill is like trying to swim upstream in a river of spawning day-hikers – this place is a zoo. A mother-son duo stops us, asks if we’re thru-hikers, then pulls out cold beverages, fig newtons, and an apple for each of us. Huh! Thanks! Trail magic strikes again!

More trail magic awaits us at Donner Pass, and Reno Dave gives us some more cold drinks while we wait for Jule. My phone rings. “Where are you guys?”
“Uh, Donner Pass?”
“Yeah, but where? What do you see?” Jule asks. This is the start of a half-hour drive-a-thon, where I give Jule bad directions, and she consistently fails to find me. (“So you’re next to a brown building and Sugar bowl?” …every building is brown… Sugar bowl is huge…)

We finally reunite. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other in almost seven years, but old friends are the best friends.

Back in Reno, her dogs flip out when we walk in the door, but calm down after showers. Jule tells us we didn’t smell nearly so bad as she would have thought, but we must’ve smelled wild. Like outside.

This couch is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. My feet hurt unbearably, and Jule winces as I wince walking around the house. No hiking tomorrow, hurrah.


Day 58: a long uphill

Day 58
Miles: 15
From Rae Lakes to Lake Marjorie
Pinchot Pass

It’s raining on J. Cold, wet drips, as the frozen condensation inside our tarp melts, splash on his face. None of them hit me – I’m happy to stay in bed – but J feels otherwise. We can hear Teal hacking even though we can’t see him. He succumbed to temptation and smoked during his time in town, and he sounds like the Marlboro man, 30 years after the commercials. Guess it’s time to get up.

Bluesman takes off ahead, then Teal, with me and J bringing up the rear. We hike downhill a long ways, then turn into another valley and begin the long uphill to Pinchot Pass. Teal is under a tree, eating skittles. We throw down our packs and join him, and I put on my windshirt despite the warm sun. “I thought this was a windshirt,” I explain, “but it turns out it’s actually mosquito armor.”
“The mosquitoes can still bite you through that,” J chimes in.
“No they can’t.”
“Yes they can.”
“Well, they choose to never do so then.”
“That’s considerate of them,” J replies, irritatingly.

The mosquitoes have been sneaking up on us, absent sometimes, swarming others. It figures that someplace this amazing would have something wrong with it… a high-pitched whine in your ear and an itch you can’t scratch. I switched to wearing pants for the sun exposure, but now I’m doubly glad for the protection.

Starting up the uphill, I charge it. We run into our buddy Crush, getting water at a stream with two other ladies I don’t know. I had thought Crush was way ahead of us – he’s got legs like a seven-foot tall gazelle – but I think he gets hung up chatting with people. He’s always saying ridiculous things, preceded by the phrase, “as they say in Texas…”. His rationale for this is that there are enough people in Texas that no matter what he says, someone else there has probably said it at least once. The two ladies introduce themselves as “the girls.” They’ve just jumped on the trail a few days ago.
“Well, if you’re the girls, then one of you is left and one of you is right, right?” I ask them.
“I thought the same thing, but figured I didn’t know them well enough to say that,” Crush laughs. We pass on by and keep charging up the hill.

I’m exhausted. Why am I charging uphill? Why is this hill so big? “How far are we?” I ask J.
“Looks like about 4 miles to the pass still.”
“4 miles??” I throw my pack down and nearly have a meltdown, but I need to make a trip to the bushes more than I need to throw a tantrum. I’m sitting there with my pants around my ankles when I spot a lean, dun shape moving through the bushes nearby. “Mountain lion!” I think. “I’m going to get eaten with my pants down!” I hold perfectly still and watch, and the shape emerges again – with a sharp nose and bushy tail. Coyote. It’s a beauitful specimen, a bit thicker than the scrawny desert dogs I’m used to.

Four miles is long ways, but we walk it. We’re coming up on the pass – a long mountain ridge closing off the bowl we’re walking in. “Which spot do you think is the actual pass?” asks J.
“Mmm, I think it’s that low spot over there,” I reply, pointing to a dip in the ridge.
“I think it’s that one,” J says back, pointing to a different one. But I won the flip of the coin and we head to the right.

My favorite part of going over a pass is the moment just before you crest, when all you can see of the other side is bright blue sky, and there might be anything over there – lakes, castles, the waterfall over the edge of the world maybe. Then you crest, and it’s sharp ridges and mountain waters and Bluesman, waiting for us to share the view. We sit on top of everything and eat snacks.

Crush and the Girls are not far behind, and they stop for snacktime too. Another hiker, (who, inexplicably, has packed his pack so that his bear can dangles and smacks him in the butt every step he takes) makes the top as well. The Girls had assumed that their hiking partner was right behind them (he also, inexplicably, packs his bear can so it hits him in the butt) but it turns out that we’d all been mixing the two guys with giant packs up, and the dude hiking with the Girls is actually several miles behind, with altitude sickness. “Did you guys ever discuss what you would do if you got separated?” I ask them.
“Uh, no.” Soon, the conversation is all about plans of action, whether to go back, or leave a note, or ditch him because they don’t like him. I’m all involved until it suddenly dawns on me that this conversation is about attention, not solving the problem of a greenhorn hiker with too big of a pack and altitude sickness, and alone. I leave.

I left the conversation, but it keeps bothering me that there seemed to be no plan to go back and make sure this dude was ok. I don’t care how big of a prick someone is, it’s bad form to ditch them without even telling them about it.

We get to Lake Marjorie in the evening, just as the mosquitoes come out to swarm and the fish are out to bite. J takes his rod and catches us a whole mess of little brook trout that we steam with wild onions we’d found earlier in the day. After pasta sides and crackers and stale cookies and ramen, fresh trout tastes so real. The Girls show up, sans hiking partner. We go to bed late enough that we’ve outlasted the mosquitoes, and don’t set up the net-tent. Mather Pass tomorrow.


Day 57: Double Duty

Day 57
Miles: 13
From Bishop (via Onion Valley Trailhead) to Rae Lakes
Kearsarge Pass and Glen Pass

An entire extra day of prep should have had us on the move with rocket boosters this morning… alas, procrastination begets more procrastination. Post office, packing, diner breakfasts, re-packing…I’m not sure we’ll ever get out of here.

At the post office, there’s a beautiful old GMC High Sierra. “High Sierra!” says J. “Cool logo,” he adds, and snaps a photo before he goes in. Tess and I are waiting out front when an older gentleman comes up to us, gets in my face, and accusatorily says, “What were you doing taking a photo of my truck!”
“uh, just the logo sir! We’re hiking the High Sierras, and you’re driving a High Sierra! Cool, right? ha ha?” The old man is not placated, but leaves us alone. I didn’t know I was so suspicious. Sheesh.

Packed to the gills with bacon and pancakes, no more chores left to delay us, Tess drives me, J, Bluesman, and Teal up to the trailhead to depart. It’s 1:30pm and we have two passes ahead of us. Our packs sink low on our hips with 8 days of food – the most we’ve ever carried – and we start up the thousands of feet of elevation leading up to Kearsarge Pass. I’m starting off right, with a trip and a stumble and flat on my face. “oof,” I mutter, from underneath my pack.

I bought new shoes in Bishop, and if this is any indication of how they’re going to treat me, things are not looking good. The gear store didn’t have the model of Salomons that I’d been wearing (the XR Mission), so I swapped in the XR Crossmax – it’s similar, but with a thicker foam sole, which seemed like a good idea yesterday. Problem is, the sole is also narrower, and I feel like I’m trying to hike in platforms. The shiny, pink kind. I roll my ankle again and again, cursing more every time.

Despite all that, it feels so good to be back on the trail. I’m starting to feel lost in the trail towns, like a fish in a suit. It’s not my place, and I’m overwhelmed by the stripmalls and food and people and internet. Walking is easy. One step one step one step. We charge up Kearsarge pass, finish the seven miles from the Onion Valley Trailhead, and finally re-join the PCT, leaving the desert and towns safely behind the mountains. I don’t want to see them, I just want the mountains, and the lakes, and the snowpack, and the wild. Forever.

Kearsarge Pass was a bit of a haul. Too bad it’s not our only pass of the day – Glen Pass awaits. My back-on-trail optimism takes a bit of a beating on the switchbacks, but I huff and puff to the top, where I find Bluesmand, surrounded by JMT hikers, where he regales them with PCT battle stories. Teal comes up right after J, and in the late afternoon we descend towards Rae Lakes in the Golden Hour. Bluesman drags us a few more miles and then we set up camp. Taking off my pack feels like getting out of prison, and we set up our tarp facing the Painted Lady Peak, it’s top still lit up like a Christmas Star for one more minute. The lakes are beaten silver, the trees black against darkening peaks, and words cannot do justice to this place. I’m exhausted. Pinchot Pass tomorrow.

Over Kearsarge pass, back in the promised land.

Bullfrog Lake

Coming up Glen Pass

Bluesman and Teal, heading down Glen Pass

Over Glen Pass

The golden hour…

J (aka Dirtnap) heading downhill

Last light on the Painted Lady

Twilight over Rae Lakes


Day 54: Over and Out

The sun rises right into my tarp – I squint an eye open at the fabulous dawn, then settle back into a content morning snooze. It’s going to be a town day anyhow.

We finally all get up and start the stiff hike up Kearsarge Pass. For some reason, I failed to connect the word ‘pass’ with ‘really steep climb up a mountain’. The trail is catching me up to speed on my vocabulary though – I’m huffing and puffing and about to bonk. J feeds me some snacks and we keep going. The grade on this section is ridiculous. The traffic on the trail is also something new too. Mt Whitney marked the start of the Pacific Crest Trail’s intersection with the John Muir Trail, and we pass dozens of JMT hikers, day hikers, section hikers, and weekend backpackers in a day. After having a trail all to ourselves for weeks now, it’s a bit of a shock. Especially since they are all going the other direction. 800 miles of looking at north pointing footprints, and suddenly they are all the wrong way. I feel like a lost salmon.

Up and over the pass, next to the incredible Kearsarge Lakes. The trail down to Onion Valley faces east to Owens Valley and the White mountains, down to dry country. It looks hot down there.

Motivated by visions of milkshakes and burgers, we burn the downhill miles. My hipbones are feeling especially abused these days, so I unbuckle my hipbelt and let my pack hang on my shoulders, where it feels about ten times heavier. For the first three days with my bear canister, I was packing it at the bottom of my pack. At the end of the third day, I only had to look at my pack to feel the implacable round case in the small of back, and putting on my pack had developed into a long, complicated process of layering extra clothes and dirty socks around my waist for some extra padding. It finally occurred to me to change how I was packing my pack, and my life instantly improved. I’m using the ULA Ohm 2.0, and it’s a tall, narrow pack, lightweight pack. It works great if you pack it right… For now, I pack my sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and net-tent in the bottom, using socks and gloves to fill in the gaps. The bear can slides in (upright) on top. Rainpants go between the can and my back, long johns fill in the sides, extraneous clothes squeeze in the cracks. So far, so good. It doesn’t collapse around the middle anymore; I no longer hate my life; I can get into my food without unpacking everything; it carries like a dream again. However, my hipbones are raw and deep purple from the first couple days, and they don’t seem to be recovering while I carry a pack on them for 10+ hours a day. Maybe a rest day will do the trick.

There are trail angels waiting with food at the Onion Valley trailhead – Uber-bitch and Bristlecone – far lovelier people than their names suggest. They feed us tortilla soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and give us a ride down to Independence. We emerge into a hot, dusty town – we’re an entire mile lower than we were this morning. Teal and Tess pull up to the Chevron and pick up Bluesman, Dirtnap, and me – trail friends, reunited again.


Day 45: getting higher

Day 45
Miles: 19
From Joshua tree spring to Fox mill spring
June 15, 2014

On the trail by 8:30 this morning – I woke up at first light but preferred my dreams to waking for a little longer. “Good morning J,” I sing. “Time to get up. Another night that we didn’t get eaten by mountain lions!” I add, satisfied.

I hate getting up, but I sure love mornings on the trail. I think I’m happy every day, around 10 am (ok a few small exceptions).

We climb up 2000 feet, to 7000 ft, then back down to 5000 ft for the next water source. Hallelujah, it’s a little tiny creek, and it’s flowing well. After being left high and dry last night I was worried it would happen again. Even walking quickly, six miles is plenty of time to imagine all kinds of scenarios around dying of thirst. I don’t think we even made it to parched today. Read More