Days 124 and 125: Going nowhere fast

Days 124 and 125
Miles: 0

My burning desire to finally get back on trail and to start the final push to Canada has been thwarted by my burning desire to hang out in Portland, eating delicious food, taking naps, and seeing old friends. Snap. On top of that, doing our food resupply for this last stretch seems to be a three-day process for me and J. One day to buy, one day to pack the boxes, and one day to mail them…

The weather is beautiful, heartbreakingly perfect, the sort of weather you don’t even realize is weather until you think back on days full of lunches on patios, long bike rides around town, evenings outside: Portland in the summertime.

Our chores are almost done. We’ve been to REI (new undies and socks). We stopped by the Snow Peak store, full of titanium and other things we can’t afford. I bought a new titanium spork. This one is purple. I also bought a beautiful wool blend, long-sleeve shirt, on an incredible sale for a still outrageous price, to replace the purple one I’ve worn down to rags. J convinces me that’s it’s too beautiful to ruin hiking, so I just put in the box of things to mail home instead.

Most importantly, we bought hundreds of dollars of groceries. We sat down on the sidewalk in front of Safeway in downtown Portland and ripped everything out of the excess packaging (so much packaging!) and bicycled it back to J’s brother’s apartment. J’s brother&girlfriend are healthy types, the sort of people who have a house full of delicious, nutritious, organic food and a drawer of high-end chocolate, and it is downright embarrassing to be doing our hiking resupply in their house. J and I wait until they leave to do the necessary work of divvying up bags of candy bars (pounds and pounds), 2 lb bags of gummy bears, 2 lb bags of sour patch kids, 2 lb bags of skittles, potato chips, wasabi peas, instant potatoes, pop-tarts, tortillas, tuna packets, brownie mix to stir in straight with our instant coffee, and on, and on. Once it’s all sorted and packed into USPS priority boxes, J tries calling some of the resupply stops in Oregon to see if we can re-route some of the boxes there (that we never picked up) to resupply stops in Washington. Shelter Cove resort won’t even talk to PCT hikers about their boxes unless you’re there in person to pick it up, and we are no exception. Other boxes we simply can’t find. (J threw away the tracking numbers back in Reno, and I’ve been upset with him about it ever since. I should probably get over it, but it continues to be a problem, over and over. Don’t throw away your tracking numbers! Don’t do it!) But! finally the Big Lake Youth Camp kindly agrees to forward a box for us.

Aside from chores and the temptations of the good life here in Portland, the biggest reason for our delay is PCT days. I’d never heard of PCT days before yesterday, but apparently it’s a thing – a thing sort of like kick-off (aka ADZPCTKO). It’s in Cascade Locks, right where I will be getting back on the PCT, taking place at the same time I will be getting back on the PCT, and I have a ride. (It’s 3D to the rescue again.) I wasn’t initially interested in going to PCT Days – I don’t need any gear, and I don’t know that I’m particularly excited about getting caught in the hiker bubble that will inevitably result. And, one more thing that I don’t particularly like to acknowledge to myself, is that I’m still not sure how I feel about my bicycle detour, and I’m definitely not sure how I want to talk about it to all the other hikers who put the miles in the hard way. (The real way?) There are the things that happen in your life, and then there’s the narrative you spin out of the raw material. I’m not sure that the narrative isn’t more real than the facts. The facts disappear with the passing of time, gone through your fingers the moment they’re over, but the narrative – the story – persists. Every day I spin that narrative a little bit more, here on this blog, choosing what is positive, what is negative, what I will preserve, and what I leave to moulder on the dust-bin of a leak memory.

I don’t have a story to tell yet about the bicycling. It hasn’t needed to be a story, it still was. Now it’s over, and I get to create it from scratch.

Meanwhile, last night in town. A mad push to finish some blogging, a last night with friends. Forward and onward.


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 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 34: on the road again

Day 34
Miles: 16
From the Oasis water cache to the Rock Inn

We’re just getting up when we hear people at the cache. It’s Dan and Sarah, Red, and Bob – a group usually referred to as Bob and the three Canadians. (“It’s the three Canadians and Bob!” Bob will insist. It doesn’t stick.) Avocado and Sarah are soon behind, then Dimples and Snake Eyes. The party arrived after all! I drink a cold cola with my poptarts (breakfast of champions).

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Day 13: no rest for the weary

Day 13
Miles: zero

Zero days may not involve any hiking, but they aren’t very restful. It’s all a blur of chores and hordes of thru-hikers hanging around, and lots of money spent.

J and I are re- supplied for our next leg. I’ve got a new pair of shoes in an extremely obnoxious shade of purple. Fingers crossed that these are the ones. A new shirt, not polyester, that hopefully will cut down the personal stench. It’s purple. And I’ve ordered a new pack – purple. I’m not super into purple, but that’s what the universe ordered up.
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Day 12: down the mountain

Day 12
Miles: 12ish?
From mile 160, oak grove campsite, to Idyllwild

The evening air was calm and buttery when we set up our tarp last night.  – We were deceived. – The breeze started shortly after bed and accelerated from there.

I had an inkling there was going to be trouble early in the night when J woke me up. Apparently he had a millipede on his face and he was making a ruckus about it. The winds were really picking up but I just went back to sleep.

Then the gusts started. In the middle of the night J and I ended up re-staking the entire tarp. We should probably stake the tarp like there’s going to be a windstorm every time – there usually is.
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Day 10: it’s all downhill

Day 10
Miles: 16
Trail Angel Mike’s to Anza water cache

The four of us shuffle out of the bunkhouse to a perfectly calm, blue morning. Mike’s put a thermos of coffee out, so we shake off the morning haze and get on our way. We’ve barely hit the trail when Buckeye yells,  “Promise!”

A hiker way down the trail yells back. It’s Promise, another Appalachian trail alumni who had hiked with both Buckeye and E.T. They decide to wait up for her and Latestart, who is hiking with her. Things are not feeling great with my knee or my feet this morning, so J and I decide to walk ahead and let them catch up. I’m determined to walk slowly today. I can’t let my knee keep giving out on me after lunch – I need it to work all the time.
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Day 9: unplanned stops

Day 9
Miles: 12
Agua caliente spring to trail angel Mike’s house

I don’t know if the tarp saved us from dew last night, but it caught five big bird bombs for us, and all on my side. I’ll chalk that up for a win.

The area where we camped is basically a poison oak farm, and hiking out of the Agua Caliente valley is a poison oak gauntlet. I’m leading the way, and my morning conversation with J consists nearly entirely of poison oak alerts: “left side… right side…right side, left side, both sides! Both sides!” We spend some time speculating on why, if it’s poisonous, is it also camouflaged? All the sidling and ducking aggravates my wonky knee.
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