The Final Chapter…In One Book…of a Multi-Part Series

A very upset heron trying to find some solitude

My 2017 adventure has come to an end. Not for any one reason, but because of several deciding factors. The first being that I’ve been out of money for at least two months now and I’m unwisely racking up debt. Followed by my desire to not walk in wind and rain. In spite of my best efforts, I’m a fair-weather hiker. 

The last of the sunny days in Oregon

Today I got pelted by sand flying at me at 65 mph (according to the weather report). There’s also that I wanted to surprise my parents for the holidays. 

Waterfall on the beach after wine tasting

Then a number of small reasons: my feet hurt, I’m tired, my mind is restless, I’m itching to start building toward my next goal and next adventures, I need to exercise my mind for a while because I feel myself going dim.

Formations in the rocks on the windiest day on the trail

I have had time to reflect on my life, and on my hike. In the beginning, if you remember, a trail angel said that he did his thru-hike in stages. California was to think about his past, Oregon was to think about his present, and Washington was to think about his future. Mine was in a slightly different order, but it’s the same in essence. What I’ve come up with is this:

Scott modeling the intensity of the wind


Past:

My past really doesn’t matter anymore. It happened and much of it sucked (my 20’s). I imagine that memories will grace me from time to time and I’ll scowl in disgust before moving on. The people in my past will remain there and they will never be part of my present or future. It’s not that I can’t forgive, it’s just that forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to make the same mistakes again. Lessons learned.

A slew of sea lions, defiantly relaxing outside of the sea lion caves that some jerks are charging people $17 to see. These sea lions refuse to be tamed. 

Present:

Shhh…don’t tell anyone that I’m listening to the menacing wind from the comfort of a hotel room, where I’ve been for a few days. I’m going to say that my “present” is everything that has happened on this long journey. 

Bridge on the way out of Florence

Many of you have been following along, reading about my complaining, frustration, awe, and whatever mood swing I was spiraling through at the time. 

Soaked up to the crotch by a rogue wave. If only you heard me scream.

This hike has been the single most meaningful journey of my life. I know I am going go struggle to explain its significance because, unless you’ve been there, there’s no way you will really get it (See: “Adventure Types”).

After our wet day with the wave, drunk sliding was in order


I don’t know that I’m much more confident than when I started, but perhaps more determined to succeed? I don’t know that I’m much more fit, but maybe habituated to move? Not wiser, but proceeding with a clear mind. Not more creative, but more inspired. Not more alive, but maybe I’ve finally woken up. 

Saying goodbye to Scott

At one of my weakest moments, my brother wrote encouragement that I’ll never forget. “You never started this adventure to compare how much better someone is than someone else; you started it to be better than yourself when you started.” I may not be anywhere near my goals or anywhere near being the person I want to be, but for the first time in years, I’ve taken a step forward. 3,081,178 steps to be precise.

Driving 1000 miles to surprise Scott for his birthday and finding him within 30 minutes of getting into the area


I am proud of myself. I’ve met amazing people. I’ve seen things that brought me to tears. I’ve been places that many people will never go. I’ve done things that some will never do. I found pieces of myself that I thought were lost forever. I found a reason to have faith in people. I started to dream bigger. I’ve accomplished so much more in this journey than I ever thought I would. Which brings me to…

Gorgeous evening finding Scott


Future:
I’ve gone over dozens upon dozens of life scenarios. I think I’ve found one that fits. (Fingers crossed). I found a lovely program in the Peace Corps, hiking 6 miles every day to a tiny school in Nicaragua, to educate children about the importance of preserving the rainforest.

Top 2 sunsets

In my journey this year, my hiking partner and I met a very nice man who worked for the forest service. We were discussing clear-cutting with him. He was happy and adamantly proclaimed “it’s good for the birds.” This man was not evil or vindictive. He was simply not educated on the subject.

Geese hanging out until they go home in the spring

I’ve walked through many forests, and you know what I heard? Life. Everywhere. In abundance (with the exception of one creepy spot in Lassen). And you know what I heard in the clear-cut sections? Nothing. Complete silence. …it’s good for the birds.

Sunset eagle


Now you can imagine when I saw that rainforest program pop up again, how it just felt right. I think this year, I’ll be learning Spanish.

Late autumn trees


If the Peace Corps works out (I’ll blog about that too, contingent on internet availability), I will follow it with grad school…possibly a doctoral program in psychology. We’ll see. 

Coos Bay during a storm

I also will make art again. That is a certainty. And I will attempt the Pacific Crest Trail again because it was worth every struggle to get there. As far as love, it’s up in the air right now. Who can really know where that will go.

The owns who own the town, Orick, CA.


Thank you for coming on my journey with me. For assisting with my sanity. For encouragement. For company. For something to occupy my mind. I hope this inspired you to move from “dreamer” to “adventurer.”

Beautiful morning after sleeping in a parking lot on the way home


A river otter saying hello and upsetting anything with feathers


Small bird serenading me at sunrise


Beautiful sunrise on the very last day of my long journey


And a proper sendoff

Adventure Types Footnote

Fancy mushrooms

I’m writing this as a kind of footnote to my next blog which is already very long. This helps to describe people you’ll meet during a thru-hike, compartmentalized into very absurdly generalized categories.

Rewarding view after a long climb


Adventure Types:
In talking to people over the past 7 months, it’s funny the types of people you meet. I’m talking about strangers here, where it’s easy to lump them together. Hikers. Non-hikers. And dreamers. Or possibly adventurers/non-adventures would be more appropriate? It’s probably terrible to lump people into these categories, but for the sake of this story, just go with it.

Estuary with bald eagles

A hiker/adventurer, you can spot instantly. When you’ve been on a journey, long or short, that has significance to you, it changes you. I don’t know how and it’s difficult to explain, but you can see it in people. In a simple “hello,” there is a difference in the way people interact. When you say hello to a hiker/adventurer, it’s an instant spark of recognition, like talking to a favorite cousin. You’ll immediately fill each other in on the past few months of your lives. And offer any food or beverage you have in your possession.

Estuary again


When saying hello to a non-hiker/adventurer, it’s a curt acknowledgement. Enough to be polite, but not enough to get to know one another on any level. This kind of person will ask about your hike because it scares them on some level. They want to share in your experiences for the main purpose of confirming that they never want to try it. This isn’t to say they don’t get out and do things, they just prefer to enjoy fun in a responsible fashion. Responsible doesn’t include vanishing from your life and job, then running out into the wilderness and doing everything your parents taught you not to do. For example, hiking alone, eating mounds of junk food, hitchhiking, talking to strangers, accepting food and candy from strangers, getting into windowless vans. It goes on like this. But you’ll never what this person does for fun because you are a stranger and they don’t want to talk to you.

Deer on the beach as we were watching whales

The dreamer often finds themselves right in the middle. They’re a little scared and a little too set in their life to make the journey. But they often become adventurers because it all sounds too good to pass up. Or they live in comfort while finding excitement in the adventures of others. Dreamers are often caring, generous, and encouraging. They may even talk others into adventures but still not go on any themselves. It’s a fine balance, but the scale is easily tipped because they’re just waiting for the right inspiration.

Sandstone cliffs at Pacific Beach


Pacific Beach Haystack Rock


Searching for glass floats in Lincoln City. There wasn’t a treasure at the end of the rainbow.


Tide coming in at Lincoln City


Colorful Tidepools

 

Rain and Concrete

The shipwreck at Fort Stevens that has no historical significance

Here I am. Still walking through Oregon. I got my hiking partner back and we only want to kill each other every other day.  Oregon tried to make a nice trail, but fell short when they made most of the trail follow hwy 101. Walking along the highway is one of the most unpleasant things. Give me snow, give me a 4000 ft climb, anything but road-walking. Walking along the road raises your anxiety, is harder on your body, and harder on your spirit. Then it starts raining.

The beginning of the trail

I spend most of my time these days coming up with reasons not to quit. There are too many temptations here. Food, hotels, that convenient bus that keeps driving by. On the PCT, you’re forced to be in the wilderness and just accept it because you have no other choice but to walk to the next town.

Thousands of tiny jellyfish

 There is no cell service out there, no internet, no cars, and less distractions. Here, just one phone call and you could be home…dry…next to a fire.

Hiker huts to dry off in

The coast does have its pleasant aspects. It has showers. I never have to go more than a day or two without a shower. All the state parks that allow camping have hot showers. I also don’t have to carry a lot of food. This is why I’m constantly perplexed by why my pack is still heavy.

Thrilled for sun after a very wet day

I get rained on, at least to some degree, nearly every day. I wore so much rain gear yesterday that I ended up sweating through all my clothes and was drenched at the end of the day anyway. The other day I had to walk around with wet, salty feet because the waves wouldn’t go out long enough to let me run by the cliffs.

The Haystack at Cannon Beach

Today, the weather will be much worse and the day will be spent hiding in the tent to let my stuff dry. This is what I get for refusing to let go of summer.

Where my pathway should be

The towns are neat little beach cities with gorgeous art and sometimes really good food. Cannon Beach has been the best for both of those. But in Pacific City, while having lunch at the Pelican Brewery, we had the pleasure of watching two humpback whales play less than 100 feet from shore. Then two deer ran across the sand.

Watching tidepools as I figure out how to get off that rock

The forecast for the foreseeable future calls for more rain. I hope there are more whales to keep my spirit up.

Making friends with newts

Beautiful cliffside overlooking Manzanita

A log that refused to die

A midnight shot of the moon

Interesting wood with Twin Rocks in the background

Beautiful glowing, misty morning

Even the rocks in the bay are pretty

Taking the tracks to avoid the roads

Keeping balance while walking on the railroad bridges

Best grilled cheese sandwich ever

Lessons in Letting Go

Lake Louise

October 9th

It’s been a long week and we were never able to get back on the trail. We waited too long and the snow set in in the mountains. We began making backup plans to keep the adventure going, but differences in opinion tore us apart. For the first time in 4 months, I am truly alone. I’m trying to be excited about it as I set off on my own adventure. But I feel like I lost my best friend. Some of my most significant days were with him.

The snow when we were supposed to start hiking

Fully in Autumn

Astoria

This trip hasn’t been at all what I expected it to be. I’ve done less than half of the trail and yet it’s more than I’ve done my entire life. It changed my outlook on life. I’m afraid I’ll never be satisfied after this. The trail feels like home and I’m homesick. Now I’m driving a rental car north in hopes of reaching Alaska before the snow. I hope it will clear my head and heal my heart. After that, it’s back to the Oregon coast to start walking home.

Aspens in Prince George, BC

Snow and aspens on the way to Alberta

October 14th

I didn’t reach Alaska, but instead spent a few days in the Canadian Rockies, snow and all. My rental car is a trooper and made it through the snow like a champ. Jasper and Banff were amazing.

 From waterfalls to ice fields to glaciers, it was gorgeous. I saw a lot of wildlife: 3 eagles, 7 deer, a snow bunny, 15+ elk (with 2 males sparring), and at least 30 big horn sheep that were hanging out in the road. 

Beautiful evening in Jasper

Yesterday, I sat in some hot springs in Banff as tiny snowflakes fell on my face. I think the rest of my life needs to be filled with moments like that. I drove through 5 National Parks in total and might go through another today as I make my way west.

Cold little rental after being scraped off in the morning

My mind is clear now, but my heart is still sad. I’m making my way down to Astoria in the next couple of days. I’m ready to start walking.

Canyon at Athabasca Falls

So cold that I needed a babushka

Athabasca Falls

On the road to Banff

Parking lot at the icefields -4℃

Columbia Icefield and glaciers

The closest I’ve ever been to a big horn sheep

Big horn sheep licking minerals off the road and knowing this is their territory

A perfect blue glacier

Made it to Banff, the first national park in Canada

Cave and Basin. The spot that inspired the national park system.

One more shot of Lake Louise because it was that beautiful

Without Further Adieu

Evening on Ruby Beach

It has been a long vacation from the trail and I’m itching to get back on it. Spending some time in society made me realize I’d really just rather be a hermit. Everything is so busy and so chaotic. I found myself exhausted and depleted. With any luck, I’ll be back on the trail tomorrow and I hope I can find peace again.

San Juan Island

It hasn’t all been bad, though. I was able to explore the coastal cities of Washington. My favorite day was taking a ferry to San Juan Island and kayaking on the ocean in the rain. It was also nice to work something other than my legs. Olympic National Park was stunning. You can practically run the trail when you aren’t weighed down by a 40lb pack.

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Kayaking on the ocean 

Washington has stolen my heart. The sunsets on the ocean were the best I’ve ever seen, the weather has been lovely, the food is excellent, and there’s so much to see.

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Having lunch on driftwood tables 

Going back to California was hard. Everything is brown and gray and everyone there is in a hurry. I had an awesome time with my family. My cousin’s wedding was lovely and the bride was gorgeous. It was wonderful seeing everyone again.

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View from hotel in Tacoma

Now, packing up and feeling uneasy that I’m missing something, I’m anxious to be back in nature. It’s as if that has become my home and everything else is the temporary part. It’s been a difficult few weeks away. I find myself feeling just as lost as I was before I started this. I hope I can find clarity in my last month on the trail.

Goblin’s Gate in Olympic National Park

Rainforest of Olympic

Dam removal to restore ecosystems

Rialto Beach in La Push

Sea stacks in La Push

Sunset on Ruby Beach

 

Fall

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Crossing Bridge of the Gods into Washington

The weather is changing and the cold is settling in. The air has a new crispness and the leaves are turning. Nature’s gentle reminder that Fall is near.

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Lush, hot rainforest

Other parts of our journey are fighting the change in weather. The ever-present snow is still melting and the rivers from the glaciers are still flowing in the summer sun. The birds are still aflutter while feasting on sun-kissed huckleberries. But I feel the change. Where I once avoided the sun, I now finding myself drawn to patches of light peeking through the trees, thawing out my chilled skin.

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Labyrinth at the Buddhist Abbey

This section has been both exhausting and miraculous. Beginning at Cascade Locks, the heat of summer was upon us. With 100°+ days and daunting climbs, the days were rough.

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Pretty flowers at Buddhist Abbey

Smoke from fires in Cascade Locks crept in, making breathing difficult. After only 35 miles, we were chased from the trail again as another fire broke out and the trail was closed ahead. It was an exhausting time, emotionally and mentally, jumping around fires, only to find solace at a Buddhist Abbey.

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Huckleberries!

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More huckleberries!

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Did I mention huckleberries?

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Huckleberries, melted white chocolate, and toasted tortilla!

When I started this trail, I would never have thought I would be picked up from the trail by a Buddhist nun or taken back to the trail by a monk. They were such wonderful people and they treated us as equals, whereas everyone else on the trail treated us like hiker trash. It was a perfect place to clear your mind and partake in meditation lead by a monk. One of my top five meals on the trail was the vegan Vietnamese spring rolls that a monk made us for dinner. One experience I won’t soon forget.

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Posing in front of Mt. Adams after hitting 1,000 miles. 

I watched a hiker video before I started this and they interviewed a girl who said that you can’t be so bent on making miles that you end up passing by the huckleberries. She reiterated, “you have to stop and pick the huckleberries!” I have since been applying the metaphor to life.

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Our first river crossing in many moons

But alas, back on the trail, I was able to actually stop and pick the huckleberries…not just metaphorically. And let me tell you about huckleberries! They look like blueberries but taste like a cherry…although better. They just may be my favorite berry. To top it off, we were drinking water straight from a glacier. You could see the snow melting, flowing down the mountain and into your cup.

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Glaciers on Mt. Adams 

The smoke finally cleared and we had breathtaking views of Mt. Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier. We made our way through glaciers, rivers, sparkling meadows, and moss-covered trees. The most interesting day involved climbing and climbing up mountains, seeing views of glacier lakes and stunning peaks, maneuvering across fields of snow, navigating over volcanic rocks while walking along cliffsides, balancing in the wind while crossing the “Knife’s Edge,” saying hello to mountain goats grazing below the cliffs, and ending the day drinking the best water on the trail.

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Waterfall from Mt. Adams 

At one point, on the skinniest part of the trail, next to a 250′ cliff, I slipped and fell hard on my butt. I let out of stream of curses, having landed just inches from the edge. I was very awake after that.

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Sparkling morning dew 

It was an amazing week leading up to White Pass where we knew we had to get off the trail again because of yet another fire.

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Yakima Indian Reservation

An amazing couple, their daughter, and her friend drove us down the mountain and we all spent the afternoon together. They even treated us to our first hot meal in a week (we ran out of fuel for our stoves). We are constantly reminded of the generosity and kindness of strangers out here. It’s humbling. I wish everyone would attempt this hike.

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Stunning views on Yakima reservation 

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Western anemones in Yakima 

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This tribe knows how to pick land!

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Walking through snow on the best day

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The tiniest switchbacks on the Knife’s Edge 

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Still a bit of snow at 7,000 feet. Knife’s Edge 

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Cliffside on the Knife’s Edge 

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Knife’s Edge, Mt. Rainier, and fires in the distance 

 

Moving Right Along

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Smokey sunrise in Brookings

The days are getting shorter and the miles are still stretched out before me. I haven’t made any progress in about two and a half weeks. My ending date is closing in, I have a wedding to be to, and cold weather is on the way.

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Crossing the Oregon border

Oregon has 15 active fires at the moment and has shut down parts of the PCT. To maximize time on the trail, we’ve jumped to Washington. This tends to be the state that gets snow the soonest. We hope to finish this state before the snow, enjoy the wedding, then return to finish Oregon. By that time, we’re hoping the fires will be extinguished so that maybe we’ll actually be able to see Crater Lake.

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Watching a fire started by lightning

It has been a lovely vacation from the trail. The week prior, I crossed into Oregon, spent the week trying to get away from fires, and I took a selfie with a deer. Spent a week in Ashland, bugging REI employees, eating too much, seeing a play at the Shakespeare festival, and eating some more.

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Beers at Standing Stone Brewing Co. Best food ever. 

We took a random trip to the coast to get away from the smoke from the fires and we ended up being right next to another fire at the coast. My family came to visit. We all got to witness the total solar eclipse! The air grew cooler, and the sky got so dark that the street lights came on. A truly amazing thing to see.

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Smoke sitting above the ocean in Brookings

We did a bit of running around, but also some hiking. We saw 5 gorgeous waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge. It is beautiful up here. I imagine residents have to exercise a lot, because there is a lot of really good food to eat.

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Driving through the redwoods on the way back to Ashland

I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking the Columbia River and Washington on the other side. It’s crazy to think about how long I’ve been on the trail and I’m still not even half way through. The next month will be filled with 17-20 mile days, I have to sit in the sun at lunch to get rid of weird tan lines, then it’s figuring out the best way to get home for the wedding.

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Iconic Crater Lake filled with smoke. You can imagine what it looks like. 

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Columnar jointing in the Grand Canyon of Oregon. 

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Posing at an eclipse sign

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Another smokey morning at camp

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Multnomah Falls

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Multnomah Falls