Category Archives: Hiking the PCT

Backpacking alone on the PCT

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

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 

 

Somebody’s Got A Case of the “Monday’s”

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Remaining patches of snow in the Marble Wilderness

“Office Space,” a movie from the 90’s that is dear to my heart, depicts an office scene where the guy is having a crappy day. A woman coworker approaches him, recognizing his foul disposition. Instead of steering clear, she says to him in an obnoxiously chipper voice, “Somebody’s got a case of the Monday’s.” Anyone who has ever worked around anyone knows someone like this. Mine happens to be my diabetic hiking partner when his blood sugar is low. Let me tell you about MY Monday.


I woke up cranky because he woke me at 2 a.m. because he was low. He was cranky because… who really knows. I didn’t ask because I was tired. He left me in his dust as he flew down the trail. We were intending to walk 21 miles that day which was reasonable because it was mostly downhill.

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View in the morning once the smoke cleared

Everyone we met was angry that we were dropping from 6,500 in elevation to 1,700, knowing full well that we would have to climb right back up to 6,000 after town. It was a long day. Even though the terrain was fine, it was hot and muggy.

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Fire Belly Newt

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Newt holding onto my fingers

I caught up to Scott some time around 2 p.m. and we broke for lunch. We had our normal tuna and tortillas (with some delicious seasoning salt we found in a hiker box), then followed it with some blackberries and thimbleberries we picked from a hillside.

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Awesome triple tree

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Watching smoke from one of the fires

Immediately after the berries, he plows by me, saying he needed TO GO. Ten minutes later, he returned and felt the need to describe, explicitly, the details of each moment of his projectile diarrhea.

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Walking through a mountain paradise

We walked together after that but he wasn’t feeling well because his blood sugar was high…and the aforementioned bowel movement. The day was getting hotter and I was getting tired because we’d already done 9 miles. He told me to go ahead while he dealt with it. I was more than happy…I can handle low, but high is scary.

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The bluest alpine lake yet, fed by waterfalls of snow melt

My feet and knees were hurting, so I stopped to filter water and rest. Scott came up and wasn’t looking good. He had gone low again. I gave him half of my remaining Mike & Ikes (since he already had half of my bag the night before). It wasn’t enough. We made a meal. It wasn’t enough. He finished off the Gatorade and it got his number up just high enough to hike. 45 minutes later, we had to do it all again.

The funny thing about diabetics when they’re low, is it’s kind of like dealing with a drunk person. They say silly things and aren’t much help. So, as I’m making dinner, he’s commenting on how I am preparing things (in a chipper coworker fashion). Eventually, I asked him not to speak anymore.

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Giant wall of marble

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A marble cave

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Hillside of berries 

When I was at the end of my rope, the sky opened up and it started pouring rain. There I was, covering all our stuff with the rain fly of my tent. Then we got under it and ate our meal. When the rain subsided, I wrapped my rainfly around my pack, and hiked on. The evening was hot and humid.

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Rainfly-covered pack

I was having flashbacks of hiking in the rainforest in southern China. To top it off, the trail was covered in poison oak. You can only unsuccessfully avoid it so many times before giving up. I just walked straight through it. We only made it 14 miles. The only highlights were setting up camp before dark and scrubbing thoroughly with soap specifically for poison oak.

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Grider Creek during the descent

Aside from that long day, it was a lovely week. There are fires raging all around and I haven’t had to change plans yet. The smoke was pretty bad a few days but nothing terrible. The walk through the Marble Wilderness has been amazing. Absolutely breathtaking. Passing one alpine lake after another. At perfect swimming lake, I made friends with some curious little newts that held onto my fingers in the water. Those tiny creatures were the highlight of my week.

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The Klamath River during a 7-mile road walk to town

Upon finally making it to town, I had a hardy breakfast and spent the day doing chores until a thunder storm blew through. Lightning struck all around in the mountains. A woman from the forest service ran up to all of us hikers and was frantic. The lightning caused a fire 6 miles north of here and she was afraid one of us would start hiking and get caught in it. Now, we all wait to hear what the status of the fire is in the morning. There are more fire closures in Oregon, which is my next stop on the trail. This time next week, I’ll be out of California.

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Hiker parking outside the cafe and general store in Seiad Valley

 

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Receiving love from home

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The beginning of an evening storm that started several fires. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zeros and Nearos

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Sunset on day 100, at Dead Falls Lake 

I’m finding myself living from zero day to zero day. Looking for any excuse to hike less miles each day. This is fine, but when my body forces me into a zero, it’s not so much fun. It’s been a long couple of weeks and I haven’t written because an entire week was spent recovering.

Shasta was a nice little vacation; staying at a resort with a hot tub in the room and eating hot pear salads. When we got back on the trail, I felt weak and was sweating more than usual when climbing. The next evening, Scott and I were night hiking when I needed to rest. Really, I needed to sit down before I fell down. My body was shutting down. Scott rushed to set up camp as I laid on the ground in the middle of the trail. The next day, I felt nauseated and dizzy all day, so we made our way back down the mountain in the evening. Scott even carried my pack to town.

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Ice cold water on a hot day in Castle Crags

We got a ride back to Shasta, which didn’t welcome us back (please don’t stay at the Evergreen Motel). That being said, we caught a bus to Redding where we stayed for four nights while I saw the doctor and recovered (I won’t go into details). We had a date night and saw a college production of Sweeney Todd at the recommendation of the nice girl at Marriott. This girl was so sweet that she upgraded our room, wrote an entire itinerary for a date, and left us wine and chocolate in our room. We bought her a whole cheesecake.

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Castle Crags

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Curious little grouse hanging out around the tent

Back on the trail, I was still slow, doing only seven miles per day while recovering. We took a nearo (near zero miles) day and on another day, after a hard climb, we took a zero at the most gorgeous lake that we had all to ourselves. We spent all day swimming.

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The most perfect lake on the trail. Upper 7 Lake. 

After that, we continued on with high spirits. We stopped and talked to several locals. One spent the last 40 years searching for a certain aster that was burgundy and he found it this week. He informed me where I would see the best wildflowers…it was conveniently next to the best water.

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Sunrise at Upper 7 Lake 

This has been the most gorgeous part of the trail. Every day we woke up, planning on going 15- to 20-miles, and each day we stopped to talk to too many people or found a place that was so gorgeous that we wanted to wake up to it. On this stretch, there have been more wildflowers, more springs, more lakes, and more wildlife than on any other part of the trail. There were 4 bears, including a mother and her two cubs that we saw twice. A family dog scared one out of our campsite.

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Can’t get away from Shasta 

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Pitcher Plants

We have found so much kindness in this section too. Because we were going so slow, we were running low on food. One of our 10-mile days, we came upon some car campers who invited us over for some beers, then asked us to stay and they would make us breakfast. We were the envy of all other hikers when we told them we had French toast and bacon for breakfast. Then, these wonderful people gave us the bacon grease, potatoes, and carrots to cook for dinner.

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Boiling potatoes and carrots for dinner

They replaced our Sawyer filter bags, filled our salt and pepper shaker, gave us butter and brown sugar. I know these sound like weird things, but we were dying to find calories in this section. And Scott’s blood sugar was dangerously low one day and the brown sugar came in handy.

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With Scott above Upper 7 Lake 

We spent much of the week laughing at silly things. One day I sat down to patch a blister forming on my foot. Scott set his pack down and went to move it so it wouldn’t smash a wildflower. The pack toppled over and rolled 70 feet down a hill, smashing every flower on the way down. We both watched it roll the whole way. Scott chuckled so I started cracking up. He just looked at it then said a drawn out, “Well, shit.” I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. Later that week, we got caught on a ridge, in a thunder storm, and set up camp next to the tallest tree. We simply laughed at our own stupidity.

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Two of many tiny lakes in my journey

We did our first 19-mile day and it had the biggest climbs of this section. We were excited exhausted and running low on food. The next day, we were passed by several trail runners who went in and back to the car. When we reached the parking lot, they gave us beer and snacks, then were nice enough to drive us the 11 miles into town. We’ve spent the evening bonding with other hikers.

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Another day of bushwhacking

It’s been a long, difficult stretch, but I’ve been on the trail over 100 days, hiked 831 miles and lost over 26 pounds. After a couple days of rest, it’s back to the trail. In a couple of weeks, I will be saying goodbye to California.
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Evening storm in the mountains

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Evening mountains at Dead Fall Lake 

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Stepping around road blocks on the side of a cliff on the Russian Wilderness. 

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Beautiful lake with our destination in the distance

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Rock steps on the way down the mountain

 

Distractions

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Burney Falls

Distractions are common on the trail. They range from things like pretty flowers and butterflies to food and people. I have been the most distracted in this section because it was probably one of the more difficult sections. I set out each day ready for adventure, ready to hike, and then something happens after a couple of miles hiking that just makes me want to stop and find a milkshake. Or anything cold. Or anything that isn’t hiking. I left Old Town and was feeling low.

I detoured to walk through lava caves and then camped alongside a small grand canyon. I had a hot day of crying for no apparent reason.

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Trail angels and their trail magic

Then, as I was walking along, feeling pretty glum, I turned a corner to a welcoming face who invited me over to a sun shade. It was a group of women from the Burney area who were trail angels . My eyes started tearing up when I saw what they did for hikers. They had chairs set up in the shade; an ice chest of cold drinks; an ice chest of delicious salad and pasta salads, fruit, and cheese; and an ice chest full of beer donated graciously by Fall River Brewing Company. These ladies even took enough care to wrap the forks in napkins and tie colorful ribbons around them. They also had a phone charger for us. To top it off, they made us strawberry shortcake. Needless to say, I stayed there for 5 hours. I left feeling amazing and humbled by their kindness. And they started this because one of their daughters did trail angeling as her senior project in high school.

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Lava beds on the way to Burney 

I’ve been distracted by friends, family, food, attractions, food, showers, food, soft beds, and food. I’ve woken up late nearly every day, but I’m enjoying myself.

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Northern California making sure we knew where the trail crossed

I met some great people and random strangers who were nice enough to cart me to and from the trail. Then, my sneaky mom called asked my room number when I got to Burney “in case she needed to call.” That afternoon, my brother and his girlfriend showed up at my room to surprise me with shaved ice!

It was a great weekend! We explored, ate, and watched fireworks.

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Evening sun at Lake Britton 

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Last view of Lake Britton

With Lassen a distant memory, and Mt. Shasta as my new neighbor, I’m feeling good. This past week has been filled with good and bad days and a lot of happy surprises. I’ve made some great relationships, and have hiked with people. I’ve even gotten to the point where I have passed people on the trail. Maybe I’m getting my trail legs after all.

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A wonderful person leaving ice-cold drinks on the trail

My hair is getting lighter and my skin is getting darker. My waist has gotten smaller and my feet have grown bigger. Everything that worried me or stressed me out at home really doesn’t matter anymore. It’s amazing that I struggle every day out here and I feel more alive and at peace than I ever have.

The journey from Burney has been fun, exciting, and exhausting. I’ve been hiking with my friend, Scott. This is nice because I can walk at night when it’s cool outside because no one is going to mess with a guy that’s 6’4″. We’ve had our share of adventures as well.

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Moonrise in the middle of our evening hike

One in particular is because the Pacific Crest Trail association wasn’t clear with their signage about a detour, and I assure you they will be receiving a strongly-worded letter. Getting lost at 1 a.m. in the mountains is totally my favorite thing to do. We walked 3 miles in wrong direction down a fire road and finally gave up at 2 a.m. and camped. The adventure wasn’t over.

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Scott enjoying the view outside of Burney 

The next morning, we followed the GPS on our phones and got as close to the trail as we could on the road. Then we bushwhacked our way down a canyon, up the other side, down another canyon, and up another. It was utterly defeating. The both of us fell several times, we were bruised, Scott was bleeding, and it was the first (or second) time in my life that I hated nature. I recall falling and exclaiming, “F@*% you, nature!” When I made it up the second hill and stepped foot on the trail, I got emotional. It took us 5 hours to go 2 miles that morning. We made it to a water source and slept until evening.

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Beautiful view of where we’ve been

That entire day turned around when we woke up. I ran into a girl I had met in June who was having a bad day. We chatted until she felt better. She ended up camping next to Reed and Nicole (who helped rescue my dog). I think some people are meant to be in my life. That night, we hiked until 2 a.m. and then a wonderful couple gave us a ride into Mt. Shasta the next day.

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Getting close to Mt. Shasta 

Time in Shasta has been all about food, sleep, and time to forgive nature. We’ve also had some wonderful memories with other hikers while breaking bread. I may not make it the whole way to Canada at this rate, but a hiker named “Necktie” put it eloquently. “I may not be a thru hiker, but I’m a MYTH. A multi-year thru hiker.” That may just have to be the case.

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Mt. Shasta