Monthly Archives: May 2017

Controlling My Thoughts

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White Pelicans Landing in Big Bear Lake

Much of my day is controlled by my mindset. If I let one bad thought in, it can ruin my whole day. It has been such a long week, my thoughts tend to be negative. I let myself stew about that one sideways glance that other hiker gave me. Or linger on the fact that someone didn’t say hello. Out here, there are a lot of great people, but there are also those who are petty and judgmental. The petty ones are very judgmental of day hikers, which they all thought I was without my huge pack.

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Reflecting on Where I’ve Been

There is a lot of time to think, and that isn’t always a good thing. I’ve come to notice that my mind veers toward negative thoughts because they seem the easiest to dwell on. Perhaps my mind is looking for easy to make up for everything else being so hard.

It has been an eventful couple of weeks. I’ve been “slackpacking” (walking without the burden of my pack and having my parents pick me up every night) for a couple of weeks as I go through our mountain range. Now that I’m making my way up into my 4th mountain, I’ll soon be on my own again. But I’ve been making better time, doing 12-14 miles per day, up from the 7-8 miles I was doing in the beginning. I can feel myself very slowly getting stronger. Now, I only hurt a lot instead feeling like my limbs are trying to rip from my body. Progress.

I was really sad at the beginning of the week as I was still thinking of my poor dog being bit by the snake. And I was walking through the part that she loves because there is a lot of water to play in. I was dwelling on that when a hiker came in the opposite direction and gave me three little caramels. It was enough to perk me up for a while until the heat set it.

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Walking Through Big Bear

The heat on Monday and Tuesday was atrocious. I passed the 300 mark and walked a little more to meet my dad on a Jeep trail. Being so exhausted, I didn’t think about my phone being in my pocket as I was getting on the back of a motorcycle. Of course it fell out and then was run over by the hummer behind us. Brilliant.

Walking along Deep Creek was gorgeous. There is so much to see and so many swimming holes I’d like to visit when I’m done with this hike. There were even wild burros, and I had no idea they even lived in the area. I soaked my tired feet in the ice cold stream flowing into Deep Creek, then filtered a liter to drink. I went through 5 liters that day and still ran out. I fell asleep in the shade, just past the hot springs, with my feet in the water. It seems that every time I sat down that day, the heat put me right to sleep. I was deeply nauseated by the end of my 14.3-mile day that at one point, I bent at the waist an prepared to vomit. It didn’t happen, but it was that close. The cruel thing about walking along Deep Creek is that you’re right next to the water, but it’s down a 100-foot cliff. I never had it in me to find a way down.

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300 Miles!

I made my way past Silverwood Lake, down to the 15 freeway, then on my way up into the next mountain, I ran into Reed and Nicole (the ones who helped carry Morrigan to the road)! I gave them both big hugs and was so excited to see them, it absolutely made my day. Apparently Reed got heat exhaustion on the same day I did, but he actually did vomit. They hitched a ride into the mountains and were now doing that section backwards so he could recover. We were all excited that it had been cool ever since.

I am tired but I’m pushing forward. I haven’t mastered my thoughts but I’m working on it. I am climbing another mountain and feeling proud of myself. My mom was thinking about it on the way home the other day and said, “When you’re done with this thing, you’re either going to be in really great shape or dead.” I laughed for a full minute. Yes.

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Morrigan

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Morrigan loving the water

Today has been a long day. I’m actually crying as I write this. When I said I like adventures, I should have been more specific. I don’t like the kind that involve emergency situations. Today was another one of those.

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Getting a branch stuck in her harness

It started off as a beautiful day. My dad dropped my mom and I off at the trail with our dog, Morrigan. It was warm, the birds were chirping, and Morrigan was happily playing in the creek and swimming in the ponds. We were about to stop for lunch after an hour or so of walking when Morrigan walked off the trail and didn’t look quite right. Just then, my mom realized there was a rattlesnake on the trail and rushed to grab Morrigan, but it was too late. She had already been bit on her muzzle.

We were rushing to figure out what to do, but adrenaline was kicking in and we weren’t quite thinking right. It’s harder to figure things out when emotions kick in. I sent out a spot tracker message to my dad to come meet us, but we were far from the road where he dropped us off. At that moment, two other thru hikers walked up and asked if we needed help. I was starting to cry and we were both frazzled. Their names were Reed and Nicole. Reed ended up carrying Morrigan a quarter mile back to a small Jeep trail we had passed earlier. I was trying to call my dad as I was trying to catch up to Reed. When I sat down with him, I realized that Morrigan had a bite on her front leg too.

My mom had gotten a hold of my dad who just happened to have a cell signal because he was driving another hiker into town. He was now trying to figure out how to get to us.

Reed and Nicole continued on the trail and I was trying to call animal hospitals to see who had an antivenom. Mom was holding Morrigan who was getting too calm. Morrigan is never calm. I couldn’t stop crying. The swelling on her face and leg were getting so bad, I thought we were going to lose her. When we thought hope was lost, around the corner came two Jeeps.

The guys saw my distress and stopped to help. I briefly told them the situation and they drove up to my mom and Morrigan and began to swiftly and calmly move things around in their Jeeps to accommodate us. I was in one Jeep and my mom and Morrigan were in the other. They turned around and we were on our way, stopping only for 12 Jeeps coming in the opposite direction. My driver leaned out to the first of the opposing Jeeps and told them we have an emergency and we need them to move quickly. The first Jeep got on the radio to the rest and they all plowed through and out of our way. It was all so perfectly orchestrated.

The road we were on was not really a road, it was more of a line of several large boulders connected by dirt. My dad would never have made it to us on that road. If anyone has ever been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, that is a little how it felt being in this Jeep on this road…but much rougher. These guys were amazing. I hope they didn’t hurt their Jeeps with the speeds they were going.

At the end of the road, my dad pulled around the corner. We stopped and I jumped out, giving my driver a big hug. Still not thinking, I didn’t even get his name, but I know he works with someone I went to high school with. We loaded Morrigan into my parents truck, said goodbye to the awesome Jeep guys, then sped off. We also picked up the hiker, John, that my dad was originally driving. I didn’t realize at the time that something urgent was happening with John’s wife, which is why he needed to get to town.

It was such a long drive to get to the animal hospital. We were all very quiet. It’s a miracle that we made it in time. When we finally pulled up to the building, they were ready for us after my earlier phonecall. They took her in, tested her blood to figure out which snake, got our consent (asked if we’d pay their price), then began the process of administering the antivenom. The vet came and talked us through everything. They’ll watch her and make sure she’s getting fluids, but they’re just making sure she doesn’t have a reaction to the antivenom. Now all we can do is wait.

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My sweet Morrigan

Morrigan has so many emotional issues and she’s not very bright, but I love that sweet, crazy dog. If you can keep her in your thoughts and prayers until she comes home, we really appreciate it.

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***Update on Morrigan. She’s home and exhausted. She wasn’t even home one minute before she ran upstairs to hide and sleep in the closet (her favorite spot). She is terribly swollen in her face, neck, chest, and on her leg. She is black and blue all over but the worst is over. For now we are watching for infections and trying to get her to eat. If she doesn’t, it’s back to the vet tomorrow. 

My Cup Runneth Over (A Mother’s Day Tale)

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Beautiful morning after a nightmare evening

This is going to be a long one.

The trail is tough. I don’t care how the robots are doing, completely unfazed by a climb. I am a real person. One who has never been athletic in my entire life. I am doing this hike at my own pace, because I don’t intend to die on this trail. Also, I don’t want to hate the trail, which is kind of how I felt on this stretch. When I tell other hikers that I do 8-11 miles per day, they all feel the need to comment on how I’m taking it slow. For a while, that comment upset me. I’m not taking it slow. I’m just not a robot. Therefore, I’m going at human speeds. I listen to my body when it’s in pain and I go at MY speed. Eventually I’ll get faster, but it’s no one’s business but mine.

That being said, I did 14 miles yesterday. 14! On the hardest part of the trail so far. I climbed a mountain and did 7,000 feet in elevation gain. The past few days have been interesting. There was more desert, lots of heat, but happily, there was water this time. I hiked with people for the first time and I could almost keep up with them. Almost.

I met some great trail angels who devote half of their year to helping us out. It’s so awesome to even have someone willing to drive you to or from the trail, and having the ones at home figuring out where you are and where you should be. I am lucky to have the best trail angels of all in my life. I’ll get to that story in a bit. It’s just so great to be walking all day in the heat and have a total stranger be there at your stopping point for the day who just wants to make you a heaping plate of spaghetti. Or even ones who set up a water fountain in the middle of nowhere for you. Or the ones who let you hang out in their break room and help yourself to the Gatorade and cushy chairs. There are great people out there and they understand what we are putting ourselves through on the trail. No one understands more than my parents.

Let me tell you a story. It’s a little long, but an important lesson. Yesterday I walked from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. I stopped for a siesta in the afternoon then began my assent up to Onyx Summit. It was hell. This section has been difficult. A lot of up and down in an intense way. Walking through areas filled with mud. Dry areas without water. Then, of course, mountains. This is the steepest part of the trail, and once you start, you can’t stop to camp because it’s just a cliff the whole way. Once it levels out, you can’t camp because it’s a burn area. I pushed and pushed myself. There were many steps made out of rocks, but these weren’t steps for normal people. If I were 2 feet taller, I might be okay with these steps. Toward the end of the day I was getting to the point where my body was shutting down. I know I needed to get through the burn area and I desperately wanted to be home with my family. I didn’t have a cell signal, so I sent my family a message from my spot tracker with my location. I was trying to make it to Heart Bar because it was a dirt road where I have been before with my family. I sent another message saying that is where I was going because it said on my map that the PCT connected to a 4×4 road that lead there (this is the first time Half Mile maps failed me in a major way). It was dark at this point.

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White Water Preserve

Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate being outside alone at night. God knows I’m trying to conquer that fear, but I’m just not there yet. I set off with my cellphone light, thinking it would be a quick walk to the road and I wouldn’t​ use up much battery. There wasn’t a road! I kept going, kept searching. Pushing forward on only adrenaline because I was starting to freak out. I kept checking the maps and checking the location on my GPS. It should have been there, but there was no road to be found. I kept going. I was starting to worry about my cell battery, so I switched to the only flashlight I had, my taser (thanks Rob). I didn’t carry a headlamp or anything because I hate the dark and was always snug in my tent before sundown.

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Thick, shoe-stealing mud

I wasn’t getting replies from my parents. I didn’t even know if they were in the area. I was just trying to find that damn road that wasn’t there. Eventually, messages came through at 9:30 p.m. I sent my coordinates of where I was. My parents were looking for me but we had no idea how to find each other. At 10 p.m. I saw a tent. When you are alone for several hours and are freaking out, it is a warm feeling to see another hiker. Even if you only see their tent. I stopped there to look at the maps and the GPS. It said I passed it! But how?! I started crying for probably the 5th time that evening.DSC02020

I was freezing and the wind was relentless. My hands were shaking and I could not warm up because everything I was wearing, including my jacket, was soaked with sweat. I texted them that I needed to set up camp or I’d freeze. They said they would keep looking, but I texted them to go home and we’d figure it out in the morning. I didn’t know that they never got that message.

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The steep climb

I set up my tent, changed into dry clothes, opened up several hand-warmers (not a luxury now), and tried to get warm. I was shaking uncontrollably for the next three hours. Hour 4, I was finally warm but couldn’t sleep because the wind was trying its best to tear through my tent. My cell phone was dead, and I kept the tracker next to me in the sleeping bag in case there was word from my parents.

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Walking through the burn area

Morning came and I packed up. I was ready to leave that mountain in the past. I walked a mile and got a message from my parents, asking how I was doing. I told them where I was and which road I was turning on. Within 20 minutes, I heard their truck even before I saw them. When they pulled up, my mom and I both cried. I didn’t know that their night was worse than mine.

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Fog rolling in was the last thing I could see

They had gone to the original place I sent a message from but the road was closed, so they had to walk to get there. Then they backtracked on the trail because the GPS coordinates made it look like I was down the canyon I had come up earlier that day. They didn’t have shelter or anything to keep them warm. They walked all night trying to find me just because I sounded sad. Eighteen miles is what their phones said they did. My mom hurt her knee and my dad’s leg was hurting. They tried to lay down to sleep because they were so tired, but it was too cold. I thought it was in the 40’s, but looking at the weather now, it was 31°F. So they kept walking. They got back to the truck at 9 a.m. and that’s when I got their message.

We agreed that if this happens again, they are to go home and I’ll figure it out until morning. Even though I’m alone, I have all of my emergency stuff. They didn’t. I wouldn’t have died that night, but they could have. We will never let this happen again.

This year for Mother’s Day, we all laid around the house, groaning painfully any time we had to stand up. And when we finally did, we went to REI and bought new hiking shoes. I have the best parents in the world.

Sand to Snow

DSC01698Trail life is like an alternate reality. You know everyone on the trail even when you’ve never met before. People you’ve been leap frogging with for days, you find out went to your highschool. Hikers are all from different backgrounds, different times, and have such different stories. Yet, we all relate to each other.

Yesterday, on my zero day, I bounced around between 3 very different groups of people. The one thing we have in common is this trail. And perhaps having a good time. I’ve met people who were pure, people who do drugs, people with illnesses, people without families. It is both amazing and heartbreaking. To hear their stories and feel where they’re coming from. I am humbled and I know my struggles are nothing. I have lived a charmed life. When someone you meet is counting down the days ’til he dies from an illness and wanted to do this trail against his doctor’s orders, it puts everything into perspective (I hope he never reads this or he’ll be embarrassed). If this guy can do this without a loving family by his side, without close friends cheering him on, with a pace-maker dictating his every move at the age of 27, then anyone can. No one has any excuses to do anything.

On a lighter note, the hiker site next to us was having a Cinco De Mayo sangria party and everyone was welcome. We were from several different countries, but bound together by good music, good food, good drinks, and good company. Drunk singing of “play that funky music, white boy,” will forever be engrained in my memory. It helped everyone to (temporarily) forget about our endeavors.

I know I have felt alone and have struggled through this, but the past few days have changed how I’m looking at it. I have it easy, and my biggest challenge is still between my ears, but other’s struggles are real and tangible. I’m going to work on my mind and be more open to everything and everyone around me.

It has been a strange and wonderful week. Starting off in the desert, running out of water continuously. Meeting with 25 other hikers at a cafe, seeing everyone is hurting as much as I am. Then being in the mountains with beautiful shade trees and hanging out with people for several days. It was warm enough in the mountains that I was able to wear a tank top. Two days later, when my family arrived, it was snowing. We were spoiled in my parents’ mansion-tent, complete with electric heater (and my friend had this image of roughing it this weekend). After the snow-filled weekend, I made my way back down the mountain. My toes hurt.

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Reaching mile 200

Water

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Finding another mountain on the other side of the mountain

Today I feel like I have earned my wings. It has been a long haul since Warner Springs and I’m surprised that I’m not still out there, body reduced to nothing but a strip of leather. I don’t know what the temperature has been, but it was much hotter than any rational person should hike in. I guess someone hiking 2600+ miles isn’t rational anyway. One hiker told it just right. The past few days have been less of a hike and more of a fight for survival. Each day has been hotter than the last and the terrain is mostly up. I hate up. And switchbacks.

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House with a view

Coming out of Warner Springs was hot. At that point, I was hydrated and missing my family, so it was easy to distract myself from the heat. I was also tricked into thinking it would be lovely stream crossings the whole way, but I was so wrong. After the 5th time crossing the same creek, the trail angled upward and I feel like it never leveled out. The heat was oppressive and the breeze did little to help. I stopped every 50 steps to rest, sometimes falling asleep in the heat. I was quickly blowing through my water, even though I had just filled up at mile 115. I just needed to make it to mile 120 to fill up again. It was so steep and hot, it took me 6 hours to make the climb.

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Beloved surprise water cache

Water sources aren’t always the prettiest sight, but when you’re desperate, you’ll drink anything. Mile 120 was not pretty. What once was a gurgling spring was now a trough of foul-smelling liquid. Complete with algae, leaves, and dead bugs. It’s been 48 hours and I’m not dead. Amazing. Most people passed it up because it smelled like sulphur and looked the way it did. But I filtered it, boiled it just to be safe, and looked at it longingly as I waited for it to cool. It didn’t taste bad at all.

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Wonderful, almost-clean water 

After nursing 8 ounces of water for 2 hours, I came upon “Mike’s Place” (basically started as a guy taking in a couple hikers and now his whole house is dedicated to them). At Mike’s place, I filled a bottle and drank it without taking a breath. I filled another bottle and drank it too. I filled a third, drank half, sat down, and fell immediately asleep for an hour. That is cutting it too close.

The next water source was even worse, but I had paced myself to where I was taking my last sip as I walked up to the source. Here, I found all the other hikers. There were at least 20, sprawled in the only shade in this part of the trail. Everyone was getting water. This one was even better than the last close-call. Imagine the Ghostbusters movie (in the 80’s) where the woman turns on the water to fill the bathtub and all that comes out is this weird, orange, otherworldly goo. That was how this source was. And it tasted like blood. It was so gross that it made you gag every time you drank. I filled my bottles with tea leaves to try to cut it, but no. It was just tea-flavored blood-water. Someone must love us, though, because there was a surprise cache of store-bought water that I was able to fill up with the next morning.

It has been an ongoing struggle. Injuries that won’t heal, heat, wind, bug bites. I hobble around like I’m 80-years-old and​ I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten a trail name to reflect it. I go several days at a time without talking to anyone. Loneliness and self-doubt plague me. One hiker my mom and I met said something that I have to keep chanting to myself, “Your biggest challenge is between your ears.” And it is. I constantly have to stop myself from thinking negative thoughts.

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In case you weren’t paying attention

With all the things that go wrong or hurt, at the end of the day, when all the hikers make it to a destination together, the suffering becomes worth it. You look around at the 25 dirty, tired bodies and it helps you see that you’re not alone in this. I also read all of your comments from home and it lifts my spirits when I feel my lowest.

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Up and switchbacks